A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1973
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, November 1, 1973
7 PM. After watching the news, I really have to laugh to avoid crying. Nixon now says two of the nine Watergate tapes, crucial conversations with Mitchell and Dean, never existed.
There’s nobody around who believes the President at all – and his military alerts (he called one last week over the threat of Soviet intervention in the Middle East) or outbursts at the press won’t change that.
Yesterday Prof. Fuchs was anything but boring in class. First we discussed the Board of Higher Education resolution passing a tenure quota of 50% for CUNY faculty.
This will mean that a lot of professors who don’t have tenure will be fired and replaced by less experienced lecturers who they can pay lower wages.
Because of the tenure quota, Prof. Ebel did a courageous thing, writing President Touster renouncing all claims to tenure granted him last spring.
Calling the quota “a mark of the rising tide of inhumanity in the world today,” Prof. Ebel wrote, “I cannot in good conscience permit myself to be put into a position in which my personal benefit is purchased at the price of suffering imposed on my colleagues.”
I think this will lead to a deterioration of teaching at CUNY although it may help me personally, making it easier to get a job teaching at Brooklyn or another school next fall.
Prof. Fuchs next kicked off a discussion ofThe Red and the Black. I identify with Julien Sorel: I am ambitious and want to be important.
At one point in the novel, Stendhal says how the expectation of any event – sex, career success – is always superior to achieving the goal itself, and I’ve found that to be generally true.
Last night, when I got home, I spoke to Ronna, but we limited ourselves to half an hour so I could finish Père Goriot and so she could study Spanish. There’s no one I’d rather talk to; it seems our conversations are always interesting.
I’m glad she’s feeling better about Ivan. She mentioned that he always calls her when Vicky’s in town – which makes sense, I guess, if he doesn’t want her to think he’s again romantically interested in her.
Ronna also said that in school today Mike apologized profusely for his sexual remark about “eating” in the office yesterday, which just amused Ronna all the more.
This morning I took the bus to BC while my car was being reupholstered and I met Stacy at the Junction as she got off the Rockaway bus. She was in a hurry to get to Prof. Wachsberger’s Greek Art class and seemed intrigued when I told her that her teacher was a lesbian.
While waiting to meet Josh on the steps of Gershwin, I signed up to take the police officer test. Who knows, maybe I could be a radical cop?
After Josh came along, we went for coffee as he regaled me with more stories of his hassles with teachers; he refuses to take any shit from authority.
Last night he called Julia in response to her letter. She told him she was standing on the roof of Fashion Institute of Technology last week and was on the verge of jumping off when a guy who was a lookalike for Josh stopped her and offered her a joint.
Josh said he won’t get back with her. “She won’t last ten years,” he said. But I hope therapy can help Julia.
I see so many people living lives of not-so-quiet desperation: Julia, Beverly, Elspeth (Teresa says Elspeth’s very unhappy these days and Mason says she’s turning into Blanche DuBois).
Yesterday Avis and I agreed that were it not for therapy, we’d still be afraid to go out of the house.
Josh and I went up to his brother’s apartment, where we hung around and talked. He called Allan “a fag in transition” and said Ronna seemed “naïve or innocent, depending on how you look at it.”
He dropped me off at the college – his sister-in-law’s monster sheepdog peed all over the back seat en route – where I went with Mason to McDonald’s. Mason said he saw Leon when he came in last weekend. Leon’s working in a mental hospital in Madison and says he feels at home there.
Sunday, November 4, 1973
9 PM. It turned cold this evening. I went over to Ronna’s after she got home from working all afternoon for Mr. Fishman and we went out to walk the dog. Although I never liked dogs, I don’t mind holding Trevor’s leash; he’s beginning to grow on me.
I had a pleasant time with Ronna as we talked in Billy’s bedroom and read each other the wedding notices in the Sunday Times(interrupted by a phone call from Sid).
Last evening Ronna baked, and while I was sitting at the table, enjoying her carrot cake and the pumpkin bread she’d made according to Mark’s recipe, her father brought Billy home.
He stood in the hallway and Ronna didn’t go to say hello to him although he must have known Ronna was there because Billy was talking to her.
Afterwards, she told me she wanted her father to know she was angry with him for making that “lazy son-of-a-bitch” remark, but she also did want to say hello to her father. It’s a rough position to be in.
This morning I awoke early and decided to treat myself to a movie. I’d wanted to see Truffaut’s new film since it came out, and even though I had told Ronna we’d see it together, I couldn’t wait – and besides, I knew I would want to see it again.
(I could not help feeling guilty, however, and Ronna was a bit miffed when I told her I went. But I’m not going to run my life by first thinking of another person’s wishes.)
I got to the theater early and wandered up and down Lexington Avenue for a while, past Bloomingdales. The street was nearly deserted.
The movie, Day for Night, was fantastic. A hymn to filmmaking, it showed Truffaut, playing a director, involved in the production of a movie.
I wish I could be a filmmaker. At times I see my life cinematically (as opposed to the times when I see my life novelistically).
For instance, at the party a week ago, Shelli was shooting pool and mentioned to Consuelo how she’d turned over the game board of “Risk” while the two of them were playing earlier.
Immediately, I had a genuine movie flashback (and was conscious of it) back to a Sunday, two years ago: Shelli and I were playing “Risk” and she turned over the board in frustration that I was winning; the pieces went flying. Then she admitted to me that the phone call she’d received during the game was from Jerry. Soon after, I found out they were sleeping together.
And so on – if only I could act on my creativity.
In any case, I drove back to Brooklyn and had lunch at the Floridian. I think it’s healthy to do things alone at times.
I could have asked a friend to come along today and probably would have found one, but I wanted to be by myself – partially to reassure myself that I don’t need the company of others to insure a good time.
Of course it’s selfish, but that kind of selfishness doesn’t hurt anyone else.
Wednesday, November 7, 1973
Last evening, when I walked into Mrs. Ehrlich’s office, I told her, “I feel clean tonight.” I meant that therapy was making me feel renewed and cleansed of horrible secrets I’d had for years.
I discussed my seven years in therapy and how it’s changed my life for the better. I wondered aloud if I would remain in therapy all my life. There’s a fear inside me that therapy will end.
Leon told Mason that I was getting so much healthier that the only way I could continue in therapy was to make myself have some sort of nervous breakdown.
And in a way, Leon was right: I’m sure that if it ever looked like I was healthy enough to stop therapy, I’d freak out and no doubt new psychosomatic symptoms would occur.
Leaving therapy is as scary as moving out of my parents’ house; to me, it symbolizes being adrift.
I thought of when I was a kid and a false report that Khrushchev had died came over the TV at Hebrew school. The other kids cheered, but I worried that he would be replaced by “someone worse.”
Even then, I preferred what I knew – like the often-painful truths of therapy or the family fights at home – to facing the unknown.
I was always afraid of open fields in the country, which made me dizzy. It was because, I told Mrs. Ehrlich, I had no signs like trees or railings to structure my world.
To this day, I am unable to lie on the beach with my back on the sand: if I do, when I open my eyes, I have to clutch at the sand for support.
It’s the same way with long turnpike driving: during long stretches of nothing but highway around me and in front of me, I feel I’ll drift off into oblivion.
I told Mrs. Ehrlich that part of my feeling clean last night – and of my being a shrink in the pleasant dream I had last week – is a feeling of warmth for her.
Her white-walled office in the loft is a womb for me, and I have fantasies about her rocking me and me sucking at her breasts.
She asked me to describe this fantasy further and I couldn’t. “I know it’s hard to talk about,” Mrs. Ehrlich said.
“It’s not so much that,” I said. “It’s so hard to feel. I stop myself from even letting these feelings come up.”
I am scared of losing her. I mentioned reading of Dr. D’Avanzo’s death (and how she resembled Mrs. Ehrlich) and the death of child psychologist Haim Ginott, whom I always felt warm towards when I saw him on the Today show.
“You’re telling me to take care of myself for you and not die,” Mrs. Ehrlich said. And then, when I started telling her about Julia, I said to her, “Don’t jump off the FIT building.”
Funny, I remembered just then that when Josh told me how Julia tried to commit suicide, my first response was to ask him whether FIT was off Fifth or Seventh Avenue.
“That’s a lot easier to talk about than death,” Mrs. Ehrlich said.
Before I had even arrived home, the car radio had predicted Beame’s victory in the mayoral race; Paul O’Dwyer and Harrison Goldin also won, and there was a Democratic sweep in the city and in New Jersey.
Those computers have taken a lot of the fun out of election night viewing.
Saturday, November 10, 1973
Last evening I went to Ronna’s to pick her up and take her to my house. It was cold out, and we decided to stay in and watch TV in the basement.
First we watched a comedy show and then a 2½-hour movie,Sunshine. It was the story of this young girl, a beautiful kind of flower-child/freak of 20 – she reminded me of Avis or Libby – dying of cancer.
Based on a true story, it has her record her thoughts on tape and you see her boyfriend and baby go through the awful process of her death. It was like Love Story, except without the nauseating prettiness.
Instead, it had the Northwest and its beauty and John Denver songs: they played “Country Roads” at the funeral. It was really sad when she died, and I shut off the TV, not being able to take a coming attractions ad for a Planet of the Apes film.
Ronna was sitting in one chair and I lay next to her, and then on top of her. My head was on her breast and I could hear her heart beating and I thought to myself, “That’s life. One day we’re alive, and then – nothing.”
We sat like that, completely silent, for a long time.
Finally I said, “There’s so much shit in the world.” I looked into her eyes, which never looked so deeply brown before. I hugged her tighter and smelled her perspiration and it smelled beautiful.
We talked quietly for a little while, saying nice, stupid things. Like we had been eating a pomegranate and Ronna said, “When you open it up, the red seeds look like jewels.” There are moments when life seems so serious, you can only resort to banalities.
We talked about living in the country and how maybe that’s the right way to live. Yesterday Avis was chiding Scott for wanting to be an urban middle-class swinging single and contrasted that with her vagabond existence out West this summer.
Ronna has always said she didn’t want to spend her life in New York City, and I may be coming around to that point of view, too.
We watched this Cat Stevens concert, enjoying it a lot. My favorite song is “Wild World.” It makes me think of Ronna; someday, when I’m not around, I’m going to worry about her, how she’s doing.
It is a wild world: you can’t get by just upon a smile. And Ronna’s such an “innocent,” as Josh called her; I don’t want to see her hurt. (Especially not by me, but I can mostly control that while I’m still around.)
We made out on the couch. She came, and although I had no trouble getting and holding an erection, I didn’t. I don’t know if it was my frustration or what, but I asked her if I thought she’d eversleep with me.
I told her that someday I might leave her for a girl who would. I made sure she knew it was “a future possibility, not a present intention,” because I care for her so much.
I suggested the possibility that Hal and Ivan both stopped seeing her because she wouldn’t sleep with them, and I told her, in a nonjudgmental way, that she should examine her reasons for remaining a virgin.
She told me she doesn’t plan on waiting for marriage or even an engagement; to her, though, sex represents a commitment that’s permanent, something she can’t give me – because while she loves me, that’s not enough.
Holding each other, we talked honestly and rationally. I told her that I thought perhaps being a virgin at 20 is a bit weird but admitted that maybe I only wanted to have intercourse to bolster my frail notions of my own masculinity.
Ronna raised some good points, and we agreed, when I took her home at 3 AM, that we have to first resolve our feelings within ourselves.
Monday, November 12, 1973
It’s 4 PM on a cloudy afternoon. I have a late Linguistics class tonight and I have to hand in my midterm. So far today, I haven’t stirred out of the house, mostly because I’m exhausted.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and last night I lay awake until the sun started rising. So many things kept whirling in my mind: scenes from my life, ideas for stories, quotations from books.
The year 1973 is almost over, and soon another year will begin. I don’t know where I’m going, really; it’s all a matter of trial and error, the path of least resistance.
I heard from Mom that Irv and Shirley Cohen’s daughter Jill is getting married to a dentist whom she’s known for three months. She and her family must be in JAP heaven. God, how I despise the bourgeoisie! (I’ve been reading Madame Bovary and I share Flaubert’s sentiments).
For myself, I want something different. I’m going to be selfish and live my life the way I want to: honestly, excitingly, daringly. I’m sick to death of being overcautious and stifling my real feelings.
I thought a lot about Avis’s call and how we’ve both changed so much, going in different directions; it’s hard to imagine that I once believed myself in love with her. Or with Shelli, for that matter.
Marc told me we got another one of those silent calls again. Avis said Shelli now regrets her decision to marry Jerry; of course, wanting to appear unconcerned – and maybe I am – I told Avis that I’m sure she doesn’t really regret it.
I do feel that Shelli and Jerry will probably never get divorced, not if they’ve gotten through the rough times they’ve already had. I feel fondly toward them, and Shelli’s father’s illness (“He’ll probably never recover,” Avis said) upsets me.
Shelli’s mother is all alone in the house now and was so lonely that she invited Mason and Avis and Helmut for Rosh Hashona dinner. I remember when that house was full, when Sindy, Shelli, their parents and grandmother were all there.
Ronna and I spoke to each other only briefly last night, as she’s up to her ears in papers and midterms. After the workload goes down, she hopes to call Ivan, she said.
That’s something else that made me lay awake, wondering about the changes in our lives and what’s become of people I was once close to, like Brad and Leon and Daniel and Kate and Dr. Lipton and the Wouks and Jay and Allan and so many others.
10 PM. I feel much better after going to school this evening. Linguistics is so interesting; I really enjoyed our discussion of Indo-European. And after class, I went to the lecture hall for the showing of a film short.
Prof. Fuchs was there and motioned for me to join him. He was extremely friendly and we chatted, although I felt a bit uncomfortable.
Fuchs said that George Jochnowitz pointed out to him that my name was the same as Robin’s in the Batman comic book. I’ve been getting that since fourth grade, but somehow I never pictured my professors in grad school remarking on it.
I enjoyed seeing the short and discussion afterward with Prof. John Hancock, who directed not only the short but also Bang the Drum Slowly. I would like to get to know him better; maybe I could get some kind of job on his next film.
When I got home tonight, I spoke to Ronna only for a few minutes because she was immersed in studying.
Thursday, November 15, 1973
4 PM. A kind of rosy contentment floats inside of me, around me, through me. Today was a record-breaking warm, sunny day; it feels as though summer, not winter, is coming.
Perhaps my mood, like the weather, is only an extraordinary aberration, but I’m grateful as long as it lasts.
This morning I did research in the Grand Army Plaza library; my paper on Lawrence and Huxley no longer seems like such an awesome task.
Frieda Lawrence entitled her autobiography Not I But the Wind. I’m not certain what it means yet, but I like the sound of it.
I started writing a story about a guy going for a drive to see his retarded stepson in an upstate institution. Along with him goes the boy’s grandmother, the guy’s wife’s former mother-in-law. It’s kind of horrible and cruel.
Last evening in class when I said I liked Rastignac in Père Goriot, Prof. Fuchs said jokingly, “That’s only another sign of how corrupt you are, Mr. Grayson.”
But I want that dark, secret side of me – the side that’s hidden from the world and even from myself most of the time – to see daylight. Perhaps then it will not seem horrible, only something that exists, something that just is.
I spoke to Meyer today. Jimmy Breslin got him a literary agent, Budd Schulberg’s mother, and she’s apparently getting Meyer published a lot in magazines.
Alice told me that the new MFA program in creative writing at Brooklyn College has begun to accept applicants. I suppose I will apply.
I don’t think Alice writes that much anymore since she’s involved with teaching and her classes at Fordham and seeing Andreas whenever she can (they may go to Switzerland next week).
Alice reported that Renee has gone back into therapy, her romance with “the ugly Woody Allen” guy shattered by his all-consuming passion for his ex-wife.
While going to Grand Army Plaza this morning, I honked at Ronna’s mother on Flatbush Avenue, stopped next to me at a red light. I admire the way Mrs. C has picked up the pieces of her life after the divorce; she’s got vitality and the urge to fight.
Ronna has it, too; that’s one of the things I admire most about her, her perseverance. We had a late lunch together at Campus Corner, something we hadn’t done since I-can’t-remember-when.
We held each other’s hand at the table before the meal was served. She read me a hilarious article by Vito on sex in LaGuardia Hall (“BC’s hotbed of promiscuity”) with very funny references to Costas, Mike and Bobby.
Apart from everything else, Ronna is my best friend. This week will be the anniversary of our first date.
I told her about the latest silent phone call. Yesterday I decided to do something about the calls, so I phoned Avis, who was listening to records with Carl.
I told Avis the whole story about the phone calls and asked her to use her judgment and obliquely try to find out the story from Shelli when she next writes or speaks to her.
I don’t care if people think I’m on an egotrip (“Wow, he thinks his ex-girlfriend still loves him after two years”), but I also don’t want to embarrass Shelli. I am worried about her if she’s making these calls.
Anyway, I want to limit the people who know about the calls to Avis, Carl, Ronna and Teresa, whom I told already. I know Elspeth knows something, but she’s a troublemaker and I don’t want to involve her.