A 20-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1971
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, December 16, 1971
An incredible day. Is the world crazy, or is it me? I have no faith – no faith whatever – in people, and right at the moment I don’t think I can ever trust another human being again.
The day started off quite nicely: it was a record-breaking warm day, sunny and mild. Prof. Merritt, in English, had his best class yet: we read Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.” Last night I got caught under the spell of her writing; Christina Rossetti is now my favorite poet.
When I got out of class, I was in high spirits, enjoying the beautiful weather, and when I got to LaGuardia, I saw Jerry. I nodded, he nodded back, and I went to find Stacy in Peter’s office.
As she and I were walking, we ran into Jerry, Shelli, Leon and Steve Katz going, I later learned, to Chinatown. Later, I sat outside with Jill, who was mad at Leon for “punking out” of the Curriculum Committee meeting today.
Elspeth came in, and she was sick with tonsillitis; her stupid mother won’t let her have them removed. From Elspeth I learned that Shelli was mad at me for attending last Friday’s séance; Shelli said I “had no right” to be with her friends.
Elspeth said that Jerry is living off his mother’s inheritance, writing poetry, and giving Shelli his father’s old car.
“They deserve each other,” Elihu said. “I just wish they wouldn’t come around and make me nauseous just looking at them.”
I went to lunch at the falafel place with Stacy, Allan and Leroy. Stacy’s enjoying all the attention from them and Ivan and Timmy, and I’ve basically just given up on her.
I was sitting outside LaGuardia when I saw Kieran pass by – and he would have passed me by, too, if I hadn’t called him by name. Sindy came a bit later, and neither of them seemed too interested in talking to me. Okay, they are Shelli’s family, but I thought they were my friends, too.
I was upset, and after that, when Scott suggested we get stoned, I jumped at the chance. At the lily pond, Scott, Avis and I got pleasantly high. After they left, I returned to LaGuardia, where I helped Stacy, Leroy and Allan with mimeographing copies of Mother.
When we finished, I came out to the lobby just in time to see Shelli and Jerry come in, drunk as anything. As they sat down, Stacy and Allan chose that moment to leave together, leaving me standing right in front of Shelli and Jerry; I heard them laughing at me.
Desperate, I found Scott and he drove me home. I cried a little in the car, but Scott was about to have his first appointment with his new shrink, so he was preoccupied.
I was anxious to talk to Dr. Wouk tonight, but when I arrived at his apartment in Concord Village, I rang and rang the bell and no one answered; it seemed like no one was home.
After driving home and getting stuck in a long traffic jam on Flatbush Avenue, I got a call from Grandpa Herb, who mentioned seeing Shelli and Jerry on Fulton Street earlier. “They looked like a couple of sloppy drunken bums,” he said. I guess he meant well, but I don’t really want to hear reports about my ex-girlfriend and her lover from anyone, and that includes my own grandfather.
I got into bed, took two tranquilizers and an aspirin. I shall spend the rest of the night going insane.
Saturday, December 18, 1971
A queer, very cold day. Last night’s sleep was punctuated by dreams with distorted images of Shelli, Stacy, Leon. The whole engagement business has set me back about a month.
All I could think of was their engagement, Shelli and Jerry, Jerry and Shelli: the deceptions, the lies, the gossip in LaGuardia Hall, and the hurt. Sometimes I want to forgive them; mostly I don’t.
I just can’t accept the fact that this could happen to me; it’s like something out of a soap opera or a bad novel. Suffice it to say that I was in a great deal of mental anguish this morning, compounded by a bad stomach; I’ve hardly eaten anything in the past few days.
I cried, and I didn’t want to move; I had succumbed to despair. During the depressions, I feel as though I am having another breakdown, as though what Sylvia Plath (who knew what she was writing about) called “the bell jar . . . with its stifling distortions” is about to descend again.
Somehow, though, I always manage to come out of it. Today my savior was Gary. I was lying in bed, depressed and worried that I was ill with the stomach virus Jonny’s getting over when Gary came here to see Marc’s new car.
We went out into the cold weather – snow was on the ground – and sat in the Montego, which is a nice car. Then we called up a few places that advertised rooms for rent in The Wave, and we drove out to Rockaway to look at them.
The first was a shabby room in a big Georgian house owned by a Mrs. Brown, who has seven kids, two cats, a dog, and a sexy 16-year-old niece who kept eyeing me and who “would become a good friend of yours,” according to Mrs. Brown.
After Mrs. Brown said the former occupants were a couple of alcoholics who used to “smoke dope” and beat each other up, Gary and I made a quick exit.
The rest of the day I did some shopping and generally relaxed. Right now, I’m at peace – to use Steve Katz’s favorite term. It was so cold tonight and I had a sore throat that I decided to stay in.
Grandma Ethel said Uncle Abe has to have still another operation; his cancer is growing worse, apparently.
Monday, December 20, 1971
Today was rainy, but it was a good day.
I took my car to school this morning and went into LaGuardia, where I was sitting with Avis when I noticed an old familiar face walk by: Kang Cheng. Kang’s enjoying medical school in Brussels, but what’s really funny is that he’s developed a distinct clipped British accent.
As I was going to Poli Sci, I ran into yet another familiar face: Jon Z, home from Berkeley for the holidays. In class, Vince discussed the decline of parliaments in Western Europe.
Afterwards, I met Stacy and we went to Peter’s office and began collating Mother: Stacy gathering the pages and me stapling. I’m really pissed at some people, especially Slade and Elspeth, for doing no work; they didn’t even hand in their stories to be run off.
Leroy, Stacy and I went for lunch in the Pub; we sat at the table next to Leon, Jon Z, and Alan Karpoff. A lot of people – like Steve Katz and Leon – seem to think Stacy is my girlfriend, and I don’t mind. But I don’t think I could ever tame her independent spirit, and I’m not sure any guy could.
When we met Timmy and Scott coming out of Baskin-Robbins, there seemed to be some tension in the air, but I’m not sure who it involved.
I helped Stacy with Mother for a while more, and then I went to LaGuardia to ask Shelli to help, as I had to see Dr. Wouk. She kvetched about her tests and being busy with her sister in and all, but she finally went, and I left school.
Dr. Wouk and I had a mixup with my appointment time last week; he won’t charge me. He doesn’t think I still love Shelli: “Your dreams are just of past glory.” Since she’s the only girl I ever had sex with, I can be comfortable with her even if she’s not attractive.
Well, I’d much rather have sex with Stacy. What I’ve got to do, as Carole says, is to consider myself lucky and get a new girl.
Back at the college, as I passed Kieran and Sindy, I smiled fixedly. Then I went with Ray and Dean MacGregor to Whitman Hall to hear what turned out to be a great speech by Rep. Ron Dellums, a black Democrat from California and a former therapist.
Congressman Dellums said we must form a coalition of “the new niggers” and he pointed at a white woman and at me with my long hair and said that in today’s society, we’re considered niggers, too. “And we niggers are the majority,” he said.
Dellums said it’s easy to die – we all will anyway – but what takes real courage is to struggle with life. And he said he’s supporting Shirley Chisholm for President as a part of that struggle. Right on. I’m going to struggle with life and I’m going to win.
Tonight Mike came over to return the projector and we talked outside for an hour. We nearly got into a street fight after a couple of the neighborhood hitters passed by and made remarks about us.
I would have ignored them, but Mike, raised in the projects of East New York – when he was a teenager, he was notorious as the founder of SPONGE, the Society for the Prevention of Negroes Getting Everything – started cursing them out. Luckily, they just left, cursing back.
Upstairs in my room, I called Alice. She was crying, as she didn’t get that dream job at the magazine. But I told her to keep trying: next term she’ll be going to school at night and Alice needs a day job.
The war is over, with an Indian victory and a new nation of Bangladesh. I got Christmas cards from Scott, Gary, Brad and Alice.
Thursday, December 23, 1971
A strange day. The holiday season is upon us; now I’m alone and little tired and a bit sad. They say that this is the time of year when the suicide rate goes up. I can understand that.
When I awoke this morning, everyone was gone. Mom, Jonny and Scotty left on a morning flight to Nassau; Marc had a test, so he and Dad took off this afternoon.
I decided to skip English and instead took a drive on the Belt Parkway to Bay Ridge; the drive relaxed me as I watched the cool blue water of the Narrows and the majestic Verrazano Bridge.
When I got to LaGuardia, I gave Mikey his birthday presents, the Love Story soundtrack album and an autographed photo of Luci Johnson Nugent. Mikey cracked up.
In Poli Sci, Berkowitz discussed revolution. Scott and I went back to LaGuardia, where I bought $5 worth of grass from him. Stacy and Allan wanted to go for pizza, but also with Stacy’s friend Robbie – and with Shelli.
On the way to Flatbush Avenue, Jerry came over to Shelli and slobbered over her, but he didn’t come into the pizzeria with us. And when we brought the pizza back to the Spigot office for a party, Shelli joined us, but Jerry did not.
Shelli was friendly to me and told me Teddy Bear (“your son”) lost a leg in an accident and complimented me on my leather jacket. But I’m not going be taken in by her again – although with Stacy holding hands with Robbie, I could have used some loving.
I smoked for a while with Stacy, Timmy, Scott and Avis; then Leon told me he was filming at Riis Park and to meet him there, so I went home and then to the park.
But no one was there – except a 25-year-old guy in a blue car. I could see him staring at me funny, so I got in my car. He got in his car. And everywhere I drove, at each turn, he was following me. Though it seemed funny at first, I got scared and finally lost him back over the bridge in Brooklyn.
Finally, on the beach, Leon filmed me, Timmy, Steve Katz, Lois, the Karpoff twins and two other kids from Rockaway, Bart and his girlfriend, at whose house we later warmed up in with hot cocoa.
I drove Robert, who just came to watch the filming, home to his parents’ apartment. He said he likes Columbia grad school and that he convinced Alice to come with him to the Safari Awards.
After I made myself dinner, Gary dropped by on his way from work. But he had to leave, and now I’m alone with a cup of sassafras tea and a joint.
Saturday, December 25, 1971
A dreary Christmas. I feel ill and depressed and realize that I should have gone to Paradise Island with the family. I could use the warmth of an orange Caribbean sun on my face.
Why didn’t I go? Because, at least so I rationalized, there were all these term papers and the Safari Awards and Avis’s birthday and New Year’s Eve. Well, I’d trade it all in a second for one tropical breeze.
I woke up feeling shitty and feel even worse tonight: my throat aches, my sinuses are stuffed up and I have diarrhea.
“But enough from you, you old hypochondriac. You’re always sick anyway and I suppose you think you’ll die during the night.”
(The preceding was a dialogue between me and me.)
Anyway, this morning after breakfast, I drove to Rockaway and found Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia on the boardwalk. They both had good Florida tans and looked relaxed although Grandpa Nat complained of a pain in his chest.
It was a sunny day and on the boardwalk it felt warm, so I lingered in Rockaway until early afternoon. Then I drove back home and had lunch. I called Avis, who was similarly alone at home. Scott, she reported, had a good time when he slept over at “my” house last night (the story he told his parents so they wouldn’t know he was at Avis’s apartment).
I spent the rest of the afternoon reading Burns’ The Deadlock of Democracy, which I have to write a report on for Berkowitz. I was interrupted by a call from Gary, who’s the one using my house as an excuse tonight; he’s really staying around the corner at Eileen’s place.
I called Scott, who was also studying for Foreign Policy, and told him I’d be glad to have Avis’s party at my house Monday night, and I had no problem with inviting Shelli and Jerry. It made me feel good when Scott said he didn’t really like Jerry.
I told everyone that I’m going on a date tonight, when in reality I’m going stir crazy alone in the house (Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel went to Aunt Claire’s). We shall see if I survive Christmas night.
Sunday, December 26, 1971
A good, restful sleep made me feel just fine when I arose early this morning at 8 AM. I opened my shades and it was a mild, grey day and I was glad to be alive. So I cleaned up the house, got dressed and had a well-balanced breakfast.
Then I left the house and got into the car and drove on the Belt Parkway. For the first time I drove through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel – it was a snap – and then up the West Side Highway, just as I’ve seen Dad do dozens of times.
The first place I went to was Franklin School on West 89th Street by the park. I spent only one school year there – and only from October ’65 to May ’66 – but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that place. It was the year that I failed to cope with growing up, which is what I’m belatedly trying to do now.
I had a terrible urge to go to the bathroom, but the Museum of Natural History was closed and I began driving around frantically until I got to Lincoln Center, where I was able to relieve myself in Philharmonic Hall.
There was no traffic at all, so I drove the Pontiac slowly down Fifth Avenue. I went to the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center; it was beautiful. And all of the stores and buildings look so nice this time of year; even the people in Manhattan seem to have gotten a whiff of the magic of the season.
I drove down to the Village and went in for a burger and tea at Nathan’s, then looked around Washington Square. As I was driving, I saw a sign saying “Holland Tunnel,” said what the hell and went under the Hudson to New Jersey.
There wasn’t much there to see – Jersey City must be the ugliest place on earth – and I soon came back, but I was proud I could drive to New Jersey by myself without an anxiety attack.
Then, back in Brooklyn, I went to see Carnal Knowledge at Georgetown. It was good, but the attitude toward sex expressed by the characters appalled me. After two months of chastity, I miss lovemaking.
And I’m going to find another girlfriend. I need a girl: all day I look at their breasts and their hair and their legs and I get so horny I could burst. There are several girls I’d like to go to bed with: Stacy, her sister, Michelle from the Grapevine, and a few others.
Scott said to cancel Avis’s party. He said (was he sincere?) that they both had too much schoolwork.
Monday, December 27, 1971
A cloudy, mild day; I arose late this morning. Last night when I spoke to Alice, she said she and Robert went out the other night, and they’ll be at the Safari Awards.
I took a drive out to Green Acres this morning and I bought a birthday gift for Avis: a small gilded chain with a Chinese symbol that supposedly means “long life.”
Back at home, I had lunch and drove Grandma Ethel to Kings Plaza. From there I went to Avis’s apartment in Philip Howard, but no one was home, so I continued down Flatbush Avenue downtown until I got to Dr. Wouk.
We had a good session today. As the year ends, it is time for reflection, and we decided that 1971 was a very good year for me. I had a relationship with a girl and I survived the breakup of that relationship and I made a lot of friends and I’ve done more things on my own.
After my therapy session, I did find Avis at home by herself. She liked the gift and kissed me on the cheek. I sat in her bedroom with her, she in a teddy-bear rocking chair that was Scott’s birthday gift.
Apparently Scott’s story about all his schoolwork is true because Avis said he can’t see her tonight and she said that she wanted to go to the movies with me. But I didn’t really feel like it and made an excuse.
Avis and I talked about Stacy (who’s now a trip with Timmy to Virginia). Avis says Stacy’s very into herself, and I’m afraid that’s true.
I saw a card with Shelli’s handwriting, and out of morbid curiosity, I guess, I picked it up. It was a printed, embossed holiday card that said “Peace . . . Shelli & Jerry.” I felt a bit down when I saw that and went home for supper.
I needed to think, so I took a long drive into Manhattan and back. Earlier I had spoken to Terry, who was crying; she has family problems but the main thing that’s scaring her is graduation. It was easy for me to tell Terry, “Life is what you make it,” but can I apply that to myself?
As I drove by the lake in Prospect Park, I thought, what I said is true. I have so much. I want to share it with other people, especially one particular person. And I’m sure she exists – somewhere.
I had a good talk with Gary later. He thanked me for making his weekend pleasant. Gary said that he and Kjell saw what was happening to me with Shelli “but we really couldn’t do anything.”
Thursday, December 30, 1971
Last night was the Tenth Annual Safari Awards. When Alice and I got there, most people hadn’t arrived, but within the hour, they were there.
So many faces: Jane and Jon Z, Chuck and Barbara, Ray, Lou, Bob and Estelle, Donald, Bud, Bill, Alex and Sherie, Rosie, Mikey and Mike, Steve and Allan, Burt, the Karpoff twins, the Fried brothers, Stanley, Lois, just about everyone who is anyone in our circle with a few obvious exceptions (Leon’s discarded friends: Laurie and Jon K, and poor Charlie).
First came the mingling. Shelli and Jerry came over to me, and Jerry shook my hand and we all talked pleasantly.
And during the award ceremony itself, I wasn’t even upset when Leon called up me and Elspeth (“winners of the Harold Stassen medal”) to give out the award for Worst Supporting Actress – the joke being that me being dumped for Elspeth’s ex-fiancé makes us both losers, ha ha.
Well, not as big a loser as Anne Wiazemsky, who was named Worst Supporting Actress for the third year in a row, this time for her terrible performance in Raphael, or the Debauched One, following her wins for Pigsty and Sympathy for the Devil.
After our names had been called, our way to the “stage,” Elspeth whispered that she was “mortified” that Leon was playing with our emotions, and I just whispered back, “We’ll bring this off with dignity.”
And we did. Anyway, afterwards I found out some people assumed that Elspeth and I were called up together because we were brother and sister. We both have the same hair color and aviator glasses.
Later, when Jerry mispronounced WR: Mysteries of the Organism as “Mysteries of the Orgasm,” I made sure to laugh loudly.
Leon ran everything so beautifully and he put so much work and planning into making the Safaris good; the trophy this year was the head of Senator “Scoop” Jackson surrounded by sparklers. I talked with people I haven’t seen in ages; it was so nice for us to all get together again.
Alice enjoyed the whole thing, and as I told her, I don’t think of the eighty or so people in that room, there was one I really disliked. The movie that Leon made was the highlight of the evening, of course. And I liked seeing us all onscreen.
Alice and I didn’t stay for the screening of Targets, which Leon showed on my projector. All in all, it was a memorable evening.
Today was a rainy day, and I felt tired the whole day and didn’t do much. I took Grandma Ethel home to Rockaway; talked with Gary on the phone (Eileen asked me to her party tomorrow night); met Alex and Sherie in Kings Plaza and shopped with them (I bought two shirts); and thought about last night.
Jill, Elihu and Elayne were noticeable by their absence, but I suppose that’s their business and that was the whole point of boycotting.
Tonight we had a Mugwump meeting at Hal’s house. His parents are away, and Ivy, who’s staying with him, had a stomach virus and looked awful. Gary, Arnie, Mike, Mikey, Alan, Mel, Mason and I bullshitted for a while and then got down to business: this election we’re going to be the ones to fight dirty.
It was terribly foggy driving home tonight. I spoke to Mom, who was at Aunt Sydelle’s; their flight back had been delayed by fog but they’ll be home from Cedarhurst soon.
Whew! Leon was certainly wrong: with all the friends I have, I can’t possibly be a loser.