A 20-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1971
by Richard Grayson
Tuesday, November 16, 1971
I had a wonderful night’s sleep. I did not want to leave my bed this morning. But I had things to do and there is a world outside my door and I have to go out into that world.
I have to remember the suggestions Dr. Wouk gave me yesterday. First and most important, I must learn to accept that Shelli is part of my past. Talking to her brings me pain, and she gets satisfaction from my pain – so I must not call her anymore, and when she calls me, I must say I’m busy and then hang up.
As Dr. Wouk said, “You’ve been acting like a masochist – or, in less jargonistic terms, a schmuck.” Perhaps I’ve been enjoying my misery, wallowing in self-pity, and overdramatizing everything.
I saw Avis briefly before my first class. I thought she acted a bit cool, but now I know that it was all in my imagination.
In English, Prof. Merritt went over Shelley’s “Adonaïs,” an elegy to Keats. We had this digression and the professor said that most of the Romantics had already written their best poems before they were twenty.
I am on the threshold of my third decade on earth and what do I have to show for it? Will I create a work that people will marvel at? Because if not, I think my life will be a waste.
I went to Poli Sci too, making this one of the few times I’ve gone to both classes in one day. Prof. Berkowitz gave a fantastic lecture on Congress and the Presidency. Last night I was reading the Constitution for the first time in years. That document is a work of beauty, too, in its own way.
Scott asked me to go to lunch with him, so I guess he doesn’t know anything about what prompted Shelli to call me screaming about lying about him and Avis this weekend.
Dr. Stone is helping him, Scott says, and he does seem more like his old self. He’s having lunch with President Kneller on Thursday. We went halfsies on a bag on pumpkin seeds; I read they’re good for your sex life.
Back in LaGuardia, Ivan was visiting. I like him, and I’ll miss him when and if he transfers from Poly to Boston University. Terry said her weekend at Cape Cod was “fine”; I tried not to smirk.
Mikey’s plans for a grand coalition don’t seem to be going smoothly, as the other leftist groups want to take over the Mugwump party, not to join it for the next student government election.
I saw Shelli but didn’t say anything of consequence to her. But when I mentioned to Avis, who usually wears jeans but today was wearing a midiskirt, that I never had seen her legs before, Avis reminded me that I’d seen her in a bikini – and Shelli said something about being jealous. Making her jealous had been the furthest thing from my mind.
I went home, took a nap, had supper, drank Sangria and sarsaparilla tea, and then I took a hot bath. I’ve been reading this year’s cult novel, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – it’s great but very depressing.
Friday, November 19, 1971
I’ve been listening to music a lot more lately. When Karen Carpenter sings, “Loneliness is such a sad affair,” I know what she’s talking about. I wish I weren’t tone-deaf and could sing.
Scott told me that Stacy went for an audition today. I like her style of singing, which reminds me a lot of Joni Mitchell’s. And I like Stacy. But I’m sure she doesn’t know I’m alive.
I went to school early on this bright, mild day. It was difficult to sit through Poli Sci, as I just couldn’t concentrate on French politics.
In LaGuardia, the talk was still on the forthcoming Safari Awards. Leon invited 96 people, including Jerry and Shelli, and even Greg and Fat Ronnie, but not Laurie or Jon K.
Leon has sort of tired of being nice to me and is now ignoring me and he concentrates most of his attention on this girl Cheryl, who works for the Grapevine, plus the Rockaway people.
I feel as though I don’t quite fit in anywhere now. Allan drove me, Mason and Amy to Kings Plaza early this afternoon. The three of them went to Nathan’s for lunch, but I felt nauseated and headachy and so walked home.
Dad was in bed. He bent down this morning and hurt his back again and seems to be in a lot of pain. After a light lunch, I returned to school, but this being Friday afternoon, the campus was virtually deserted.
I sat outside and talked with Russell and Lynne, said goodbye to Slade and Steve as they left for the weekend, and went to the almost empty cafeteria, where I sat down with Ronna and her friends Susan and Felicia, but they soon left, refusing my offer of a ride home.
In LaGuardia, Goldie from Hoa Binh told me that the proposed coalition of Mugwumps, Third World and radical groups is moving along, though with a few hitches.
I took Elayne home, and then Scott to his house, and drove around for a while before coming home. I’m reading Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land.
It’s very good, and a whole cult of sorts has grown up around it. It’s rumored that Charles Manson read it and it had something to do with the Tate murders. Laurie recommended it offhandedly, and I saw Saul reading it in September; David Gross from England was carrying it that day last year when he came to Long Beach.
I spent this evening with Gary, window-shopping at Kings Plaza and then home for coffee and talking and smoking a joint with Marc and Steven. The prospect of another lonely weekend frightens me, but I guess I shall survive.
Monday, November 22, 1971
A cold, windy day. I stayed awake last night until late, finishing Ilka Chase’s new novel, The Sounds of Home, which I enjoyed. I got to thinking about how I’ve adjusted to life alone – and I’m not really alone – and I guess I have gotten through the worst times of the breakup.
There are things I’m beginning to look forward to: on Thursday, I decided to go with my family to Washington, D.C., for the holiday weekend.
Groggy when I woke up this morning, I decided it was too much for me to go to class today, so I went back to bed. I did arrive at school after 11 AM and walked into LaGuardia.
Everyone was looking for Leon, but Alan Karpoff said that he went to Washington to visit Bob. I sat and talked with Steve for a while – I like him a lot – and we discovered we were born just three days apart.
Marie came in, very upset. It seems her father’s going crazy: he’s become paranoid and violent and does strange things, like asking the dog if he prays. Still, if he keeps refusing to see a shrink, I’m afraid Marie’s family has no choice but to live with him or commit him.
Speaking of dogs, Scott’s dog died over the weekend. He’s thinking of buying a puppy – “or maybe an anteater,” Scott said.
I saw Shelli briefly; she said her aunt came up and took her grandmother to a nursing home in Florida. That poor old lady. But what can you do? I feel almost nothing when I see Shelli now. I look at her and I can’t believe that I once loved her. It seems centuries ago.
Later, Elspeth came over to tell me that “Shelli’s lover” had been in school and “they” were going to Boston for the weekend. I told Elspeth in no uncertain terms that I was not interested in any of that and to please leave me alone. Insulted, she did just that.
I had lunch at the Pub with Fat Ronnie, who came to teach his cartooning course, and with this blond kid Josh, a friend of Ronnie’s whom I vaguely remember from Allan’s party.
I saw Stacy briefly on my way to a Hoa Binh meeting; we were both in a rush. She said a lot’s been happening in her life and that I should phone her, but her number was busy all night. The meeting was okay, but I doubt anything will come of this Mugwump-radical-Third World coalition.
Back in LaGuardia, I saw Greg talking to Mrs. D in the student government office. He looks as slimy as ever, but I talked to him. Would you believe that even in grad school in Madison, he had heard about me and Shelli and Jerry?
Dr. Wouk and I had a very productive session. I trust him very much now and he’s helping me a lot to deal with things. I came home with a sinus headache, had dinner and watched a film about President Kennedy: can it be only eight years ago today that he was killed?
Dad, Lennie, and others may buy the Nemerson Hotel in the Catskills.
Friday, November 26, 1971
The weather here in Washington continues to be sunny, if a bit cool. I had a very restful night, except for another disturbing dream about Shelli. In this one, she left Jerry and came back to me. God, when will this end?
We got up bright and early and went downstairs (or actually upstairs and then downstairs) to the Sheraton Park’s coffee shop for breakfast. Our stomachs full, we went out to drive downtown. Traffic was heavy, but we managed to get a parking space near the Capitol.
After we walked up the steps of the Capitol building, we went into the rotunda with all the statues, the Senate and House galleries – Congress is not in session – and snooping around various offices. (Wilbur Mills’ door was locked.)
From Capitol Hill, we took a taxi to the Smithsonian. There is a week’s worth of stuff to see there. I especially enjoyed seeing the Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 command module. The place was filled with tourists.
We walked around the Mall, over to the National Archives, where I got a look at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. By then, we were tired and hungry, so we decided to skip the National Gallery of Art and walk all the way back to our car.
After getting lost and circling the city, we had lunch in the Hilton and then came back to our own hotel for rest for an hour.
Then we drove out to Arlington Cemetery, but as we were walking toward President Kennedy’s grave, I felt faint and sickish: I just couldn’t bear to see it, so I told the others to go on ahead and I went to sit in the car.
We past the impressive Iwo Jima statute, and then went to the Jefferson Memorial, which I had remembered as my favorite place in this city.
It still is: the beauty of the building at dusk, reading Jefferson’s words, seeing the reflection of the Washington Monument in the Tidal Basin, looking across and seeing the White House and the Capitol – I could stay there forever.
Tonight the others went to visit the Bergers in Bethesda while I had dinner alone in the room and then walked around this stately hotel, nearly deserted except for delegates to the White House Conference on Aging.
Sunday, November 28, 1971
Coming back to New York on the Eastern shuttle alone yesterday afternoon despite being terrified really made me feel I accomplished a lot, trying to get over my fear of flying. I feel a lot more confidence now and proud that I faced my fears – even if at that one point I had to grab the hand of the businessman sitting next to me.
Last night in Rockaway, while I was watching All in the Family with Grandpa Herb, I remembered about being invited to the twins’ birthday party at the Karpoffs’ house.
I drove down the few blocks, and as I pulled up, Alan arrived with some people with whom he’d gone mountain-climbing in New Paltz. Leon opened the door and I saw a lot of the Karpoffs’ friends from Rockaway, including several luscious girls.
One girl, whose name I can’t remember, sat next to me, talking about this and that. Her pale blue Oxford shirt was buttoned low and I could see her creamy bare tit. God, she was beautiful, but schmuck that I am, I didn’t get her phone number or even her name.
Leon said he drove back from D.C. with Bob on Thursday; he had a good time there, too. Everyone at the party was real nice, and eventually people I knew came: Allan and Amy, Steve Katz and his girl Paula, Mason and Libby, Mikey and the Fried brothers.
There was wine and food and grass. Leon gave Carl a waterpipe for his birthday, and I enjoyed the milder taste of grass from it. Leon’s birthday present to Alan was a banjo, and inevitably, Leon brought out and played his accordion.
By midnight I was zonked, so I returned to my Castro convertible in Grandma Ethel’s living room. I barely slept as my mind raced away, but I woke up early this morning and had breakfast on the terrace overlooking the ocean, beach and boardwalk.
I went early to Brooklyn and met Irv Cohen – “the Irving Cohen who’s still alive,” he said, referring to my dead great-uncle – while we bought the Sunday papers; he was surprised to see me back from D.C. early.
I spent the rest of the morning reading and resting, then went out to lunch by myself, and soon after I returned home, the family arrived. They saw Ford’s Theatre yesterday, and today they drove home without stopping and made it in four hours.
Responses to the Times ad poured in for the rest of the day. Dad has apparently sold the Cadillac; he got a down payment, anyway. So he hopes to go up to Springfield on Thursday to pick up his new car.
Grandpa Nat phoned me and asked me to call this distant girl cousin in Mexico City, who’s very rich and who he thinks I’d like. But I didn’t. When I was in Bethesda, the Bergers also said they have someone they want to fix me up with the next time I visit.
This great weekend made me feel I have so much to live for: good times, good friends, new places, sexy girls, and so much more. I feel I’m coming out of my depression for good now.
Tuesday, November 30, 1971
A cold, blustery day. November is ending and tomorrow we come to the last month of 1971. Who could have imagined the twists and turns my life took in the first eleven months of this year?
I woke up early and caught a bus to school with Hilda, who hasn’t been around LaGuardia in months.
In English, Prof. Merritt went over Keats, who has become my favorite poet; he’s so sensual. But Merritt is such a great teacher, picking out the best in each poem. I’ve always loved “Ode on Melancholy” – I will title something I write “Go Not to Lethe” – but Merritt made me appreciate it even more.
After class, I went to LaGuardia with Jay, who has been stoned an awful lot of the time lately. Shelli asked me if I wanted her to design a logo for my Mother story about Gisele that Alice was typing up. I said it was up to her, and I walked away with Mason.
In Poli Sci, Prof. Berkowitz announced that our midterm is next week and lectured on Presidential supremacy. I met Stacy after class and we went to Peter’s office, where Terry was working on a stencil; Alice took my story to type up at her job.
Stacy had an appointment, so I returned to LaGuardia, where I rounded up Gary and Edie for lunch. I think Edie likes me – but she’s so very plain and so very straight. Gary had to go home and Edie had to study, so I again went back to the lobby.
Leon is claiming he’s working for the presidential campaign of Senator Scoop Jackson, which is pretty hilarious, but then, knowing Leon, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything he does.
After having a few laughs with Terry, Stanley and Mike, I walked with Ivan to the Junction and decided to take the Rockaway bus with him. Ivan said he “had a long talk” with Shelli today and urged her to break up with Jerry, whom he dislikes.
Ivan told her that she could never live with Jerry. “He’s a poet,” Ivan said scornfully, “with no visible means of support.”
And Ivan revealed that Jerry has given Shelli an ultimatum: either marry him right away or break up. But Jerry keeps telling Shelli that if she broke up with him, then she probably would never find another boyfriend and she’d be alone.
“Isn’t life funny?” Ivan said, shaking his head and laughing. “I always thought Ronna was the girl for me, and here I am so in love with Vicky. . . It’s all a question of maturity.”
As I got off at Kings Plaza, I thought a lot about that – “a question of maturity” – and I thought about it as I studied Poli Sci the rest of the day. Ivan has certainly matured, and I guess I too have grown up a lot in the last two months since Shelli and I broke up.
Being alone is not so bad. It’s bearable and can even be enjoyable.