A 21-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1972
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, July 2, 1972
I awoke early this morning in my hotel room after a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I always find it difficult to sleep in strange beds, but perhaps I’m becoming more, what’s the word, malleable.
Actually, the whole purpose of my coming to South Fallsburg was to try and drive a fairly long distance by myself, so as to make the very long trip down to Miami seem somewhat less awesome.
I know that the drive down to Florida will be a taxing nightmare for me, but I am prepared to be nervous, tired, hungry, headachy, faint and exhausted. Facing all this beforehand is good, I think, although I wish I could feel differently.
At 8:30 AM, I went down to the hotel lobby with Jonny and we took a walk. The countryside was beautiful, with the dew still on the leaves and the promise of a warm day.
We had a huge country breakfast in the dining room – cereal, bagels, onion rolls, grapefruit and pancakes – and afterwards I decided I’d better going if I wanted to beat the traffic and the heat.
So I packed my valise, took the car into town and got gas, then I went on the Quickway back toward the city. It was a pleasant, if somewhat tiresome, trip back, and I arrived at home at 12:15 PM, making fairly good time.
A letter from Scott in Sweden was waiting for me. He’s really having a good time now. He writes that “Swedish girls are fuck-machines.”
Also: “You stay at home too much, Richie. I‘d like to see you get away from things and leave the womb. Find yourself a woman and get away from things. It really makes a difference.”
Scott’s right, of course. Perhaps that was why it upset me to read what he wrote.
I spent the afternoon in 90° sunshine in the backyard, enjoying myself in my “womb.” Dad came home at 5:30 PM and we went out for dinner at the Floridian. Marc arrived home later in the evening, driving down with a friend.
Later I spoke to Gary, and the news about Gail’s tumor is somewhat more encouraging, thank God. Then Mark called and I went over to his house.
The place was a mess, as usual. Consuelo was resting and looked tired and drawn, not her usual ebullient self. I suppose it’s being pregnant that does it.
They’ve decided to call the baby either David or Lisa. One of my favorite movies as a kid – I watched it every night for a week on Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie – was David and Lisa.
Tuesday, July 4, 1972
A sunny and warm Fourth of July. I’ve just been outside, standing with Marc and Rita and her sister and Al, watching the neighborhood kids send up flares, Roman candles and other fireworks that make bright colors and loud noises for a short while and then become nothing more than a big mess.
It was giving me a headache, so I left the others to stand there and watch the idiocy. Still, it was a pretty nice holiday; although the trip to Florida is only a few days away, I decided to keep myself occupied this morning so that my mind is too busy to worry.
So early today, right after breakfast, I drove into the city; the traffic was fairly light. I parked at Third Avenue and 58th Street and first did some shopping for herbs.
Then I got in line at the Sutton Theater and went in to see The Candidate. It was superb, the best film I’ve ever seen about contemporary American media politics. Robert Redford was great as the young Democratic liberal and Don Porter came over well as his conservative Republican opponent.
I drove back into Brooklyn and enjoyed a burger with smothered onions at the counter of Junior’s. When I got out of the restaurant, it was still early and nice out, so I took the car back into Manhattan again.
What I really wanted was a nice, sexy girl with long blonde hair and a good body; I was feeling very horny.
After I parked in front of the Museum of Modern Art, I didn’t go in because the guards were striking and I didn’t want to cross a picket line.
So instead I watched girls walk up and down Fifth Avenue for a while. Eventually, I went down the block into the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and saw this odd exhibit of “American objects.”
Then, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I looked at the statues of the saints and the candles and stained glass. I dipped my finger into the holy water and crossed myself and sat in a pew for some minutes, just thinking about things.
I bought some ices and strolled around Rockefeller Center before coming home around 6 PM. Mom and Jonny had come home from the country. Jonny said that while I was away, I’d gotten another one of those calls where the other person didn’t say a word, just breathed.
Could it be Shelli, I’ve been wondering, although I doubt it. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Not that I like her anymore; it’s just that her calling me would be a tremendous boost for my poor ego.
Thursday, July 6, 1972
Everyone keeps saying, “You must be so excited to be going to the convention.” They forget I’m an agoraphobic who four years ago didn’t leave my bedroom for six months. It’s going to be the first time I’ve really traveled on my own, and it’s so far away.
I woke up early this morning after a surprisingly good night of peaceful sleep. Then, after breakfast, I went to the bank and got out $100 worth of traveler’s cheques.
From there I went to school. On the steps of LaGuardia, I met Mikey, who’s also sick of people telling him how exciting it must be to be a delegate. He’s still worried about his schoolwork and getting his papers done; he had his Anthro final today.
Mikey said nothing really happened at the Brooklyn delegates’ meeting last night except the selection of some woman as borough coordinator of the 53 delegates – a lot more than some stupid states like Wyoming or Delaware.
They also said that because of the credentials challenges, the first meeting of the Convention may be Monday afternoon, not Monday evening.
Prof. Galin said I could take the Modern Drama final early tomorrow, before we start the long drive to Miami Beach. He says “good things” will happen at the Convention and he told me it won’t be like last time: “The cops probably won’t tear-gas you and bash your heads in.”
Prof. Galin’s remark made me glad I was seeing Dr. Wouk after that. She asked me to imagine the worst thing that could happen at the convention or on the trip there or back.
“Well, I could die,” I said, but she pressed me and really couldn’t figure out how that event could come about.
Dr. Wouk said I know what to do when I have panic attacks and that even if bad things happen, good stuff will come out of it. Yeah, I agreed; even breaking up with Shelli was such a horrible, depressing experience, but I grew from it.
She said maybe I could thank Jerry because by seeing Shelli behind my back and then marrying her, he was the catalyst for my growth. I just changed the subject back to my fears about the convention.
Tonight I packed. Mom thinks I’m going away for a year and wants me to take everything but the toilet seat. I went out to Rockaway and picked up Mikey’s valise so he doesn’t have to take it to school tomorrow.
I’ll write next from Miami Beach if we make it.
Saturday, July 8, 1972
We made it to Miami Beach, though there were moments when I didn’t think we would, like riding on U.S. 301 (I-95 is barely done once you get past Virginia), when we drove through this horrible town in North Carolina at 2 AM and came face to face with this huge billboard that said WELCOME TO KLAN COUNTRY!
It had a hooded guy and burning cross, and I think, OK, I’m in a car with three New York Jews and at least one homosexual, and we’re all going to die.
Yesterday morning Skip and Leon met us at Campus Corner after my Modern Drama final (I wrote that I would cast a black man as Goldberg in Pinter’s The Birthday Party) and all they brought were their knapsacks.
I started driving the Pontiac, but Skip said even the trucks in the right lane on the Jersey turnpike were passing me, so he took over in Delaware. Mikey said he wasn’t feeling well, and when we stopped for dinner at this motel in Petersburg, Va., he spent most of the time in the bathroom throwing up.
At the table, Leon said that your body is very surrealistic and Mikey was puking because he had never been away from Rockaway before. Mikey blamed being sick on his new prescription glasses.
Anyway, I got a really bad headache and forced us to stop to sleep at South of the Border, this motel at the start of South Carolina, which has lots of signs with their mascot, Pedro. They also sell fireworks. I sprang for the whole $24 for the four-bed room.
We slept a few hours, and then I drove us through South Carolina at dawn, which was kind of pretty. Georgia had a lot of signs for pecans, and finally we stopped for lunch in Jacksonville.
Unfortunately, Florida seemed endless. Leon kept trying to distract me from complaining by talking about how we’re going to kick Nixon out of the White House, but I don’t think even he believes it. We also waved at cows every time we saw them.
At around 6 PM, we arrived in North Miami Beach at Grandpa Nat’s condominium. The old Jewish people saw us get out of the car and one of them pointed and said, “What is that?” like they’d never seen young guys with shoulder-length hair before. I guess we look like “hippies.”
The place is very luxurious. Leon and Skip were annoyed because I insisted Mikey and I have the king-sized bed in Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia’s bedroom.
I admit that it probably made more sense for them to have the bed together, but frankly it creeped me out to have two gay guys sleep in the same bed as my grandparents. Actually, I’m almost positive they don’t sleep together. Maybe I’m just prejudiced.
We called our families from a pay phone using some number Skip had that allowed us to call long distance for free. After dinner at McDonald’s, we went over to the Diplomat and Mikey checked in at the New York delegation booth.
In the elevator, I ran into Jimmy Breslin, a delegate, and I told him I really loved his columns. He looked drunk.
Miami Beach is this vulgar, style-y place, but it has a kind of obnoxious charm.
Mikey is asleep now, and Leon and Skip are watching the Democratic telethon. The Supreme Court put the California and Illinois delegate disputes back into the hands of the Convention.
Sunday, July 9, 1972
I just got home after getting some groceries at Publix, and everyone must have gone to the beach or someplace.
We all went to the Diplomat at 10 AM for the Youth Caucus. There were about 50 delegates under 30 from New York, but the whole thing seemed sort of silly. There’s a Women’s Caucus and a Gay Caucus and Black, Latino and Jewish Caucuses.
I made a joke about everyone being the Captive of the Caucuses (Caucasus) to Leon, figuring he might get it because he’s going to grad school in Comp Lit. But he just looked at me blankly, so I don’t think he’s read Andrei Bitov like I did in Prof. Roberts’ Russian lit class.
Mikey just sat at the state caucus saying nothing, and seeing how other people like Mike Gerstein sounded, I think he did the right thing.
In the lobby, I ran into Brian, who took me to see Liz Holtzman, who I guess is looking for a Congressional staff since she won the primary against Manny Celler. I can’t imagine what she’ll look like if she serves fifty years in the House like he did.
The big thing, Liz said, is the seating of the California delegation – if McGovern gets all the delegates, he’s got the nomination. But isn’t it kind of hypocritical to rely on the state’s winner-take-all primary rules when he chaired the committee to reform the process?
It took a long time for all the 278 state delegates to caucus. There’s a fight for the chairmanship of the New York delegation between Joe Crangle, the state chairman; Mary Ann Krupsak, an upstate legislator; and Bronx Borough President Bob Abrams.
Mayor Lindsay looked tanned and handsome, as usual the Golden Boy even if he did horrible in the primaries; Bella was in a feisty mood and a floppy hat; the Queens boss Matty Troy dressed like a slob; and sanitation commish Jerry Kretchmer wore a T-shirt. I also spotted Al Lowenstein, Herman Badillo, and Arthur Schlesinger in his bow tie.
There was a minor revolt as the diehard reformers tried to oust Crangle from the Rules Committee, but he survived.
Mikey and I had lunch in the coffee shop, then I went with Leon and Skip down Collins Avenue to the candidates’ HQ at the various hotels. We collected lots of buttons and posters from the campaigns of Muskie, Humphrey, and Chisholm, and we put this big poster, “Wilbur Mills for President,” with his big red nose, on the hood of the Pontiac.
At the Doral, Skip tried to say, “We’re with Mills,” but I don’t think they believed we were workers for the chairman of the – as it’s always called – powerful Ways and Means Committee.
We were trying to find Gene McCarthy HQ, but the people at the hotel where it was supposed to be said they’d never even heard of him.
We also went to the HQ of the two idiotic Vice Presidential candidates, Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel (who I actually shook hands with) and former Massachusetts Gov. Endicott “Chub” Peabody. (Q: What three cities in Mass. are named for him? A: Endicott, Peabody, and Marblehead. I remember that from Updike’s Couples.)
Then there was a cocktail party for the New York delegation back at the Diplomat, but they served just watery punch and stale pretzels, not real cocktails.
They turned the cameras on only when Big John came in to mingle. I went up to Mary Lindsay and started telling her I first met her when I was only 14 and they were campaigning on the beach at Rockaway, but she simply nodded and smiled.
The atmosphere in this town is absurd. The Zippies and others are downtown camping out in Flamingo Park, and the Convention Hall has barbed wire around it.
Monday, July 10, 1972
The convention doesn’t begin for another half-hour, but there’s so much going on already. Leon and Skip went down to Flamingo Park to stay with the demonstrators. Mikey, of course, is taking his seat in Convention Hall.
We drove over to the Diplomat this morning for a delegates’ breakfast, then I took a drive downtown and was outside the Convention Hall, near the Jackie Gleason Theatre. There was very tight security, and barbed wire, and things were cordoned off.
I met this man who said his brother was a Wallace delegate from Florida. He couldn’t get a guest pass, either. I talked with him and understood a little better why people like George Wallace – because he gives vent to their frustrations about taxes, busing and welfare.
Back at the Diplomat for the New York Caucus, I ran into Prof. Abbott from the Poli Sci Department, who said he was there to observe the scene.
The caucus itself was ridiculous. There were endless nominations for chairman of Crangle (by Lindsay), Abrams, Krupsak, and Lillian Roberts, a black union leader. Crangle said he wouldn’t accept a co-chairmanship and they got into a horrible parliamentary wrangle.
The four candidates were nominated in every conceivable combination for co-chairmen (chair-person, as they say at this convention). Finally it appeared that they were going to go through an endless series of roll calls when Matty Troy asked for a recess.
Everyone was so tired that in the end they agreed to have four co-chairpeople. I asked Al Lowenstein why they didn’t just have 278 co-chairpeople, and he said, “Make that 277, I don’t want it!” and he ruffled my hair and gave me a little hug. I don’t think he’ll ever get back into Congress again.
In the end, the four co-chairpeople raised their hands in victory as the crowd cheered.
Someone said Humphrey was in the hotel addressing the Illinois delegation, but you couldn’t get in without an invitation.
One of the 11th C.D. alternates didn’t show up, and Maida Asofksy, head of the Brooklyn delegation, said he needed to be replaced. Mikey suggested I do it, but the McGovern people wanted one of their staffers, and actually I’d rather watch the action on TV, as I’m going to do now.
The California and Illinois credential challenges should make this a very long night. I hope Mikey is okay because he looks lost half the time I see him onscreen.