A 21-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1972

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, July 11, 1972

The 36th Democratic National Convention opened last night and the political revolution expected because of the party reforms may be taking place. A lot of delegates are young people, blacks, Chicanos, gays, women, Indians and people who are independent radical thinkers.

The convention opened peacefully with a welcoming speech by Sen. Lawton Chiles, who didn’t wear a sport jacket. Chairman O’Brien said the party couldn’t promise anything other than the truth and people needed to be talked to honestly.

Then came the minority reports on credentials, starting with the challenge to South Carolina for under-representing women. It lost, but narrowly, and the McGovern forces apparently held back their votes in order to block a later parliamentary challenge on precedent.

The TV networks didn’t understand it was a strategic move and were saying McGovern was weaker than expected. Anything but.

The next important challenge was California. I had my scorecard to follow the roll call, and in the end the vote was to seat the entire McGovern delegation, giving him an extra 150 votes and just about locking up the nomination.

As the convention dragged on into the morning, the vote came on Illinois. As the Daley group rejected any compromise, a final vote was taken, and the McGovern 69, led by Jesse Jackson and Bill Singer, were seated.

Mayor Daley walked out, so this time he won’t be telling Sen. Ribicoff to go fuck himself like he did four years ago after hearing the truth about the Gestapo tactics in streets of Chicago.

At 10 PM, Humphrey withdrew from the race, and a little later Muskie also called it quits. The convention didn’t end till 2 AM, and I went over to the Diplomat to pick up Mikey. When the Chicago delegates’ bus arrived, they hugged each other and started to party.

Finally Mikey came back and I took him home. I told him he looked good on TV and did well in his CBS interview. I didn’t want to tell him they spelled his name wrong because I thought it would bring him down.

Leon went to his aunt’s house today, and Skip met some guy he was spending time with. Mikey slept till mid-afternoon, as he was really exhausted.

We all met up for dinner at this roast beef restaurant at the Skylake Mall where the waitress spilled coffee on me and the meal made me incredibly nauseous.

Tonight’s the keynote speech and the platform fight.

Wednesday, July 12, 1972

Last night’s convention session turned out to be the longest in political history. After the keynote speech by Gov. Reubin Askew (he seemed all right and impressed Mikey, who thought he might vote for him for V.P.), the platform fights began.

Gov. Wallace made an appearance in his wheelchair to fight for an anti-busing plank, which lost despite his speech.

There were fights for gay rights, abortion reform, tax reform and other things. They all failed, primarily because the McGovern staff was lobbying against them, saying George can’t win the election as an advocate of “way out” positions.

So as the session dragged on until 6 AM with all these debates on the losing planks. They’re left with the majority report, a moderate and vague platform.

I dragged myself over to the Diplomat and watched the exhausted delegates come off their buses. Mikey ended up going to bed at 8 AM, and despite being tired, he seems to be enjoying himself more.

I took a walk in the warm Florida sun in late morning. This trip, whatever bad things happen, has been a great thing for me. It’s been good to be out on my own, not with my family but with my friends.

In a way this convention makes me think I could do anything I wanted to.

Late this afternoon we went to the Diplomat to pick up Mikey’s credentials and wait with him for the bus to Convention Hall.

A lot of people are saying that McGovern sold them out, but he’s assured of a first-ballot nomination. Mills and McCarthy have also withdrawn as candidates, leaving only Wallace, Scoop Jackson, Shirley Chisholm and Terry Sanford against the McGov juggernaut.

The revolution of the Democratic Party has been won – by us. But has it gotten us anything, really? Only time will tell. Now it’s time to turn on the TV.

Thursday, July 13, 1972

The final session begins tonight, and everyone else is in Convention Hall – Mikey on the floor and Leon and Skip in the galleries. Mikey could get only two guest passes, and I said I’d stay home. I can see it better on TV anyway, and I had to clean up the condominium before we leave.

Tonight is the balloting for Vice President and the acceptance speech by George McGovern.

Last night the senator from South Dakota won the nomination on the first ballot with 200 votes to spare. He was placed in nomination by Sen. Ribicoff, as he was four years ago, but this time there was no police riot and no Mayor Daley.

Chisholm and Sanford were also placed in nomination, Jackson got about 400 labor votes, and ole George Wallace had his diehard supporters.

It was exciting, yet I had no great feeling of victory. It’s been a long time since that first organizing meeting in SUBO back in January, and this was anticipated, after all.

Leon and Skip took Mikey back to the condominium, and we talked till early morning about the speeches and the floor demonstrations. That funny Puerto Rican guy from the Chisholm campaign looked so happy as he kept jumping up and down.

We woke up late, and Mikey and I went over to the hotel to have breakfast. We ate with a black man from Rochester whose wife is a delegate, a kid named Brad Angel from Long Island, and two reporters from New Hampshire who interviewed Mikey.

Kenny Elstein of the 13th C.D. made the cover of Time, representing McGovern’s young delegates. Leon said the guy is a friend of Jerry and Shelli and a reform hack.

Later I went to see Dad’s friend and customer, Milt Littman, in his menswear store. I got there just as the biggest union boss in the world, George Meany, was trying on a suit. He was smoking a big cigar just like on TV.

Meany looked old and fat and crummy in the suit, but he looked in the mirror and smiled and nodded. At least he liked what he saw.

When I told this story to Leon, he said it was a metaphor for the silent majority, the kind of people who’ll vote for Nixon, the way Meany probably will end up doing: They look at America’s reflection and it seems a lot better-looking than the ugly reality.

Milt Littman gave me the $50 Dad told him to, which we really need to get back to New York. I shook hands with him, and to be polite, I smiled at his friend the big old Meany. Then I picked up Leon and Skip and we went to the Diplomat for the last New York state caucus.

I was in a phone booth calling Grandma Ethel when Howard Samuels – who I hope will run for governor again – shouted out, “It’s Eagleton!” Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, a rather bland guy, will be McGovern’s running mate.

People were annoyed, but McGovern’s people are firmly in control, so Eagleton will probably get through tonight.

We’re going home tomorrow. It’s been crazy, but a great experience.

Saturday, July 15, 1972

It’s 9 PM and I’m exhausted but exhilarated. I’m back home in my bedroom in Brooklyn, not dead at all, and I didn’t need my mommy and daddy to hold my hand through this experience.

I had some panic attacks this past week, but I came out okay, and Leon, Skip, Mikey and I became a really tight unit. I slept in the same bed as Mikey, ate off the same plate as Skip, and smoked the same joint as Leon. Wait, I’ve done that last thing a lot before this week.

The vice-presidential balloting was the most entertaining part of the convention. Although of course Eagleton won, votes were cast for Peabody and Gravel, Hodding Carter and Cissy Farenthold, and such lesser political lights as Roger Mudd, Bear Bryant, Lauren Bacall, Father Berrigan, Martha Mitchell, and Jerry Rubin.

Mikey voted, God bless him, for Abe Ribicoff. But the hijinks went on for such a long time, it was incredibly late when McGovern got to give his acceptance speech.

The theme was “Come home, America,” and it was great, but I think most people, even on the West Coast, were probably asleep because it ended around 3 AM, midnight Pacific time.

(“But it was prime time in Guam,” Leon said on the drive home.)

On Friday we awoke at 11 AM and closed up the condominium, taking our stuff out. We stopped off downtown to say goodbye to Leon’s Uncle Max and Aunt Leah, who seem sweet and are so poor they don’t even have air-conditioning.

Then we watched the Zippies and other kids leaving their campground in Flamingo Park, backpacks on, hitching north or west.

We started driving at 1 PM, stopped for lunch and for Skip to throw up (I’m the only one of the four of us who didn’t vomit on this trip) and to buy oranges, jellies and Florida souvenirs.

We weren’t making very good time when, as Mikey was driving at 80 m.p.h., we had a blowout near Cape Kennedy. We changed it, but the spare was no good, so we had to drive to Merritt Island to buy a new one. Luckily I had Milt Littman’s $50.

After dinner in Titusville, we kept driving, driving, driving through the night. Skip drove mostly, and Leon kept putting food in Skip’s mouth to keep him awake.

At about 4 AM, Skip couldn’t go on, and we pulled over into a rest area. A few hours later we woke up all sore from sleeping in strange positions in a cramped car.

I got very dizzy while I was driving around Richmond. I thought I was going to pass out, and I called Dr. Wouk from a phone booth to talk to her for a while. Reassured, I set out again.

Skip decided to get off at Arlington to visit his bewildered fascist parents. The Carringtons are a big military family, so you understand how they feel about a son like Skip, a radical long-haired faggot.

In one of my few serious talks with Skip – his name suits him so, as he’s hardly ever not smiling – I learned how hard it was on him being gay and yet getting coerced into being a big jock and enlisting in the Navy for Vietnam.

He never talks about what happened to him in the war, but I heard that his ship was bombed and he was the last person to get down the stairs or whatever they call them, that all the guys who were coming behind him died.

We stopped in Bethesda, on Wisconsin Avenue, for something to eat, and I dropped by to see Sid Berger at his carpet store. Then Leon, Mikey and I drove back to New York.

It was great to see the Belt Parkway again even though it was the only traffic jam we had on the whole trip back. Around 7 PM, we arrived in Rockaway, where Mikey’s mother and all the neighbors on Beach 128th Street greeted us like conquering heroes.

While I was in Mikey’s apartment on the phone telling Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia I’d arrived back in New York, I noticed a phone message from “Sherry.” Mikey’s mother had gotten the name wrong: she said Shelli had called, asking when “the boys” would be home and could they come to a party she and Jerry were giving to celebrate the convention. I wondered if that invitation included me.

When I said goodbye to Mikey and his mother, he asked me if he could have my AAA Trip-Tik map and directions for a souvenir. Although he has his delegate’s badge and all that other official stuff from the convention, of course I gave it to him. As I said, “I think I can find Brooklyn from here.”

When I dropped Leon off at his house, he said that now, “with another burst of energy,” I could continue and drive up the 100 miles to my parents’ hotel in South Fallsburg. But I only wanted to go back to East 56th Street, of course.

Later Shelli called, saying Leon was at their party telling everyone about the convention and saying they’d like to see me, too. Did the “they” mean her and her husband?

It would be freaky to go to their house, but I’m too tired anyway. I feel like I’m still going 70 m.p.h. and I really feel funky after riding in a car for more than 24 hours.

It’s a long time till the November election and this young Democrat needs a bath.

Tuesday, July 18, 1972

A searingly hot day. Now that I’m back in the city and things have quieted down, I’ve got a lot of things to think about as I pick up the thread of my life again.

There are decisions to be made that I’ve been avoiding: this fall, I enter my final year of college. What then? Law school, grad school, work, travel, an apartment?

And although I have many good friends, I still haven’t found that one special girl who can be my “old lady,” to use Avis’s term. I know now it cannot be Avis – she needs things I just can’t supply – or Debbie – she’s too young and too straight – or Stacy – she’s too insensitive – or any girl that I know right now.

It will have to be a new person. In my fantasies I think of this hip, petite, blonde long-haired girl who’s healthily sexy, quick, a good talker and a good listener. Does such a girl exist? Probably not. But I need someone to fill one of the few remaining gaps in my life.

There are other things to think about. This summer’s far from over, and I’ve got decisions to make about the second summer session and whether I want to take over Timmy’s job (I have to go down for a process server’s license if I do).

Mom and Dad are going away and I’m going to have to take care of Jonny for two weeks. I suppose things will straighten themselves out, as they usually do.

I got up very late this morning, and after breakfast, got some cocoa butter, greased up and went out by the pool in the 90° sun. I spent most of the day there, lying and swimming and reading, and I got very burned. I feel healthy with a tan.

I’d like to start writing again. I want to do something on a grand scale: a screenplay, perhaps.

Tonight, after dinner, I took a ride into Manhattan and walked along Third Avenue in the 60s, where everyone seemed to be gay or just looked gay. New York is the only place I could live. When you leave New York, you realize that every other place in the country – even the big cities – is the sticks.