A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1973
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, November 18, 1973
Somehow for me, Sunday nights have always been both a time of reflection about the week past and a time of anxious trepidation concerning the week to come.
For some strange reason, the past week has been one of the happiest times in my life. I’ve been able to work, have fun, enjoy people. I still can’t get over the feeling that it’s all a mirage.
They say rich people who come from childhoods of extreme poverty can never quite be secure in their wealth even though they might be millionaires.
I have the same feelings: coming from a background of extreme insecurity, I really cannot accustom myself to the feeling of happiness and I expect bad times will soon “even out” the good times. Neurotic superstition, of course . . .
I woke up early this morning and drove up to Manhattan. When I got to the Board of Higher Education building on 80th Street and East End Avenue, the doors were locked, so I waited around for someone who knew that you had to ring the doorbell so that the guard would let us in.
My first meeting of the University Student Senate ranks as quite an experience. We meet in the same room the Board of Higher Education does, and it took us over an hour to reach a quorum.
I spent the time observing the goings-on and getting to know the people. Some of them are: Alan Shark, the Chairman (Baruch, grad school): dedicated, activist, perhaps a bit overambitious; Fred Brandes, Executive Director: full-time employee, cautious and hard-working; John Fink (Hunter, grad), Vice Chairman for Fiscal Affairs: suit-and-tie conservative, pedantic but friendly; Sam Farrell (CCNY, grad): West Indian, cheerful and open-minded.
The meeting opened with a resolution proposed by Joe Mendez of Staten Island Community College. The racist Nobel Prize winner William Shockley is going to speak at SICC on Tuesday and they wanted us to support their fight to ban him from the campus.
It was defeated; I voted no on the grounds of academic freedom: even racists have the right to be heard under the First Amendment.
Other items on the agenda included reports on the new BHE (ten members, seven appointed by Beame and three by Rockefeller), to be appointed next January; the Chancellor’s budget request for next year; an insurance policy sponsored by the National Student Association (a representative, Brenda Something, spoke on this); the “tenure quota” thing, and so much other information that it was hard to cram it all in in a few hours.
I have a lot of documents I need to study.
We have nameplates designating the college and division we represent, and each month a different college pays for lunch (today it was turkey and roast beef sandwiches, paid for by Hunter).
I left before the meeting was totally over, and I have to admit I was a bit flabbergasted by the whole process.
But it’s always like that the first time in a new organization, and I’m going to observe and listen and do my homework.
Monday, November 19, 1973
10 PM. Josh called late last night. Last week he took another week off to go to Harpur College, where he stayed in the girls’ dorm with a friend.
He’ll never change: he’s still having hassles with teachers and with people in general, still scrounging around for someone’s term paper to use, still cynically questioning everything.
I wonder why Josh is like that.
At his brother’s house a couple of weeks ago, he confessed that his parents had never gotten along. I suppose Tolstoy was right: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and that creates different neuroses.
Owing to a very stiff neck which I probably got from a draft yesterday, I didn’t sleep well at all. I lay around all morning, but I had to go to school earlier than usual today for the Assembly meeting.
In the cafeteria, I met Paul Nelson and Eileen Hamlet in the cafeteria, and they were a little upset by my refusal to go along with the idea of banning Shockley from Staten Island Community College, but I still believe I am right.
Upstairs, I went to talk to Andrea about sending my certification to the University Student Senate, and she said she sent it out, signed by the SG chairperson June Mosca, weeks ago.
Upon entering the lecture hall, I was greeted by Prof. Jochnowitz at a table where he was giving everyone a copy of the agenda.
As the other members of the Faculty-Student Assembly came in, I realized how many people I already know at Richmond College: Professors Fuchs and Cullen, Peter Foreman, Ed Merritt, John Puleo, Janet McLeod, and a whole bunch of people I know by sight or who know me by sight.
Dean McCormack sat next to me, and she was a jewel during the debate over a resolution to put two students on the Personnel and Budget Committee; she really spoke out for student power.
A lot of faculty expressed dread over the idea of lowly students having a say on hiring, tenure and promotion. I made a little statement, hopefully not making too much of a fool of myself.
Anyway, we voted on the resolution by secret ballot, and the vote was 88 to 43, with 3 abstentions. Acting President Touster ruled that the motion carried by two-thirds of those voting yes or no, and so it was a victory for us.
We heard a progress report by the Presidential Search Committee (the current BHE will choose a President before their term ends in January) and voted into effect an interim governance plan.
It was twilight when the meeting broke up. I drove through the streets of Staten Island to the Mall, where I had dinner at Bun ‘n’ Burger, then strolled around the shopping center, relaxed by the Muzak and Christmas decorations.
Looking at myself in a full-length mirror I passed, I was rather pleased; except for a slight paunch, I’m not a bad-looking guy.
I returned to school for Linguistics, where we went over Middle English. Prof. Jochnowitz let us out early. Today I thought a lot about Ronna, but when I called her house, her sister said Ronna was working till late for Mr. Fishman.
Thursday, November 22, 1973
A springlike Thanksgiving. It was unseasonably warm, so at noon today, I drove to Rockaway, parked my car on the Boulevard and walked up Beach 126th Street, where the boardwalk begins.
Dressed only in a sweater, I strolled along, looking at the drifting clouds in the sky and the water hitting the breakers, each splash like a gentle orgasm.
A boy with shoulder-length blond hair in an army fatigue jacket was pointing out the Ambrose lighthouse to his brother, a drastically crew-cut Marine with that Silly Putty face that soldiers have, his sleeves too long for his arms.
A girl with very straight chestnut hair sauntered along the beach holding her shoes as her hair blew in the breeze. The old people from the Hotel Chai walked together or alone as if in slow motion.
Some of them sat on benches, dressed in suits and good dresses, and I could see that there was a Thanksgiving table laid out in that “senior citizens’ residence.”
There are so many of the old folks at Rockaway; I wonder what their lives were like and if they have come to be near the ocean when they die. I like old people, maybe because I’ve grown up with four grandparents and a couple of great-grandparents.
Around the slow-moving or stationary old people was a background of activity: joggers and motorbikes on the beach; Mason’s baby brother on his bicycle with training wheels; Paul chatting up some girl.
It made me feel that life is an ongoing process, that there is something, some force, that guides things. Going back over the bridge to Brooklyn, I heard the radio announcer say it was 1:30 PM, the exact time ten years ago that President Kennedy was shot.
I remember the trauma of that day so clearly: I was playing hooky from seventh grade with a mild cold, and Carolyn, the cleaning woman, cried out from the basement that her soap opera was interrupted by the news from Dallas, and I got out my transistor radio and brought it on the porch for the neighbors to listen to.
That day was really the point in time after which things seemed to turn sour. Despite neo-revisionists, I still remember Camelot as an exciting, proud-to-be-an-American time.
I went over to Ronna’s, bringing a dozen carnations for the house, but also because it was our first anniversary. Ronna and I took a walk before the company arrived; she looked pretty, wearing blush and a cute smock.
She’s a fine girl/woman. “Thanks for a raunchy year,” I told her.
The guests had arrived by the time we got back. Besides Ronna, her mother, sister, brother and grandparents, there was her grandfather’s brother and wife and their son and his wife, who was in her ninth month and who did nothing but whine about how uncomfortable she was.
Ronna’s mother’s cousin was no better than his wife: he’s a spoiled brat, making a T (for time out) sign with his hands every time he wanted to talk.
I sat next to Aunt Rachel, who did not win my heart, as she called me Ivan at least half a dozen times. Annoyed, I called her “Aunt Rose” once, but coward that I am, I said it too low for her to hear.
The dinner was enormous, with enough turkey, vegetables and fruit to feed an army. Ronna’s grandfather made a little speech beforehand, saying we had a lot to be thankful for: “our health and the fact that boys are no longer being killed in Vietnam and Israel.”
Ronna made so many cakes and pies there wasn’t enough room for them on the table, and we had a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream turkey for dessert as well.
After dinner, Ronna and I sat in her room holding each other, her head on my chest, and it felt sweet as a kind of drowsy contentedness swept over us after the heavy meal.
I was glad I went to Ronna’s house for Thanksgiving. Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel came over here for dinner, and Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia went to a restaurant with Aunt Sydelle and Monty, Robin and Michael.
Monday, November 26, 1973
4 PM. I’m feeling much better about things. I spent today at Brooklyn College, and in addition to socializing, I did a lot of research on Point Counter Point in the library.
I feel that the paper and the eventual thesis will come easily, as there’s so much food for thought there. In fact, I can relate Point Counter Point to the society of LaGuardia Hall; perhaps I can use the novel’s structure for my eventual (I hope) novel about the people from college.
If you can see life as Huxley (and his errant typewriter) did, as a Human Vomedy, it doesn’t hurt so much. Of course, there are drawbacks: you’re not an integrated man like Lawrence/Rampion; you remain an intellectual observer like Huxley/Quarles.
Things have been all right at home; no one brings up the incident on Saturday night; mostly, I feel better because of Ronna. The love with which she shared my troubles this weekend puts her in the category of a very few people whom I have ever completely trusted.
Some people – like Aunt Sydelle on the phone last week, and Ronna’s stepmother yesterday – ask if we’re going to get married, but we both know we have a lot of personal things to resolve before we can even start thinking of that.
Still, I’m sure it remains a fantasy in the back of Ronna’s mind, as it sometimes does in mine.
I got to LaGuardia at 11:30 AM and found Avis. She had sent me a card with her new phone number. Her mother changed it to an unlisted number because she’s afraid of calls from her rejected welfare clients.
Teresa, along with Sean’s girlfriend Spring, who’s just 17 and still a high school senior at Midwood, joined us, inquiring about the Postgraduate Center and Mrs. Ehrlich. Teresa went to a Reichian guy last Friday and didn’t like him at all.
Spring, too, is looking for a therapist although she doesn’t want to commit herself to a long process even as she knows it will take years to undo all the shit she’s been handed.
I really like Spring. After she went off with Sean, Teresa told us that Sean gives Spring a lot of problems, just like Costas does to Teresa. Spring has the hots for Costas, according to Teresa.
Later, Teresa came upstairs after some scene with Costas and said she was trying not to let her stomach become upset from aggravation.
Looking artistic in a really nice shirt, Ronna came in and we went to lunch with Susan and Felicia; Avis asked to join us, and surprisingly, it worked: she, Susan and Felicia talked with Avis as if they were all old friends.
Susan and Felicia went away for the weekend with both Kevin and Spencer. I don’t know how they can do that; it must be especially hard on Kevin.
Perhaps Felicia is hoping something will happen between Kevin and Susan, and that would lessen some of her guilt over dropping him for his best friend.
Ronna and I went to the library, where I pored over books about Huxley which Ronna let me take out with her college ID card.
We ran into Carl, who said he spent his birthday in the White Mountains. Carl asked about Avis and when we told him she went home, I bet he decided to drop in to see her this afternoon.
I kissed Ronna goodbye as she went off to Drawing class. In LaGuardia, Vito and his young friend Jason were there. Curiously enough, Jason and Spring are both Midwood seniors and are co-feature editors of the Argus newspaper there.
Vito has a lover (not Jason), but he doesn’t want to talk about it – and when he doesn’t joke about sex, it must be serious.
When I listen to Vito and Jay’s conversation about the gay bars and the Firehouse (Jason said the drag queens depress him; Vito just ignores them), I am curious but rather glad that kind of life isn’t mind. I mean mine: ha, a Freudian slip!
On my way home, I dropped Jason off at his house; he’s a nice, smart kid, rather cute, but kind of swishy.
Tuesday, November 27, 1973
7 PM. Perhaps I’m just trying to avoid talking about Saturday’s incident – and possibly deeper, more disturbing things – but I don’t feel at all like going to my session with Mrs. Ehrlich tonight.
I just rushed through eating dinner after a long drive home from Staten Island in the fog.
Last evening Prof. Jochnowitz returned my midterm; I was pleased to get a 95. This afternoon, on my way to Prof. Ebel’s class, President Touster said hello to me, so evidently he knows me.
Ronna and I spoke on the phone last night for half an hour, as we do every evening. But it’s not a chore; in fact, I really look forward to chatting with her.
Hiram has finally stopped calling her mother, who in the end found him to be as immature as Ronna always thought he was – and that’s fine for a friend, but not what Mrs. C wants in a husband.
Of course Hiram wants only to marry her and isn’t content with just friendship. Ronna said I’d been right that her mother would eventually come to see the qualities in Hiram that bothered Ronna so much all summer.
Ronna also said that Susan and Felicia “kvelled” about Avis, what a nice person she is, etc.; I’m so happy about that.
Phyllis cornered Ronna yesterday afternoon, wanting to know the origins of a threatening note found in Timmy’s mailbox.
Timmy had written a column in Kingsman about La Casa, the tutoring program in Red Hook, which quoted an unnamed tutor (obviously Phyllis), who made references to strange financial juggling by the tutors.
Felicia, the treasurer of La Casa, was upset, and her brother, a brown belt in karate, wrote the letter to Timmy, from whom he buys his grass.
Apparently, Timmy is incensed about being called “a twerp” seven times in the note. Phyllis is threatening to go to Dean Gold to “make sure Felicia is censured officially” and claims that Timmy is going to take the note to the D.A.
What Ronna has to do with this, aside from being Felicia’s friend and a La Casa tutor, neither she nor I have much of an idea, but the whole thing is very funny.
Mara said she would buy me lunch today, so I met her at noon in LaGuardia. Arriving early, I went to the new Student Government office in 142, which looks totally absurd.
Everyone there seems to be swept along with Mike’s megalomania and they all actually think they’re running the college.
They use intercoms when slightly raised voices would be sufficient and have all the accoutrements of a big business or bureaucracy.
Avis said she wrote Shelli, saying, “Nothing is going on at school except some people are power-crazy and the rest are all jumping in and out of each other’s beds.”
Mara and I went to the Pub, where we enjoyed burgers, surprisingly little gossip but some quite pleasant conversation.
She and Eric saw Jeremy at Kings Plaza on Saturday night; Ronna and I were supposed to go but I wasn’t up to it after all the trauma.
I find Mara to be charming and a friend I can confide in, and I have to admit that I probably am attracted to her a bit.
Not that anything would ever come out of it, though; at present, I wouldn’t risk my fairly good relationship with Ronna, and Mara’s so in love with Eric she’s willing to share him with another girl.
But I think a hint of sexual attraction makes people’s friendships more interesting at times. For instance, yesterday I had vague feelings like that for both Jason and Spring. (Or maybe I just like 17-year-olds.)
There are completely asexual friendships based on other things too. I spoke to Alice the other day. She didn’t get to go to Switzerland because of her eternal complaint: that Andreas works too hard.
And I spoke to Kurt and to Gary, neither of whom are very sexually attractive or particularly interesting.
Friday, November 30, 1973
This afternoon, after spending over two hours in the Grand Army Plaza library, I had a headache from eyestrain. So I drove to Kings Plaza and had lunch, then decided to go out to Belle Harbor.
It was a cold, brisk day, and I walked along the boardwalk, watching the waves come in to shore. Two of Mason’s brothers – the littler ones – were on the beach, flying a kite high in the sky, and I got vicarious pleasure by watching their fun.
A white cat was wandering nearby, and when I approached it, the cat didn’t run away but stayed to be petted. The cat seemed to be hungry, and I watched it walk around, jump down and land on its feet. I guess we can learn a lot watching cats.
An old man with a cane came over to me and said, in a Yiddish accent, “It’s looking for a place to have babies.” He pointed out that the cat was pregnant, something I never would have noticed otherwise.
The old man said his daughter’s dog was twelve years old and used to have eight or nine puppies a litter. But its last litter was only three sickly puppies, and the dog strangled them to death after a week; she knew they weren’t strong enough to live a full life on their own.
“Nature is a marvelous thing,” the old man said as the cat rubbed against our legs.
“Animals are fine,” I said. “It’s people who have so much trouble.”
“That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it will always be,” he replied. “Hard times, people fighting. I remember the Cossacks fighting with the Jews in 1911, in what is now Leningrad.”
The old man and I talked for a long time as we watched Mason’s little brothers flying their kite and a lone surfer in his wetsuit trying to find a decent-sized wave.
The man had been a tailor and is living in a room in a building “with old people and bums” since his wife died four years ago. His daughter has a house on Beach 127th Street, but “an old man to live with his daughter is no good.”
He told tales of the Garment Center and his boss, a Miss Gallagher, a fantastically wealthy Irish dress designer: “She never married but had a lot of lovers, mostly Jews.”
Miss Gallagher took seasonal trips to Paris and designed clothes for the wives of Gov. Al Smith and various millionaires.
The old man seemed like he had been dying to talk with someone for a long time, and I was glad to listen to him. It’s a shame that there are such lonely people in the world.
Mom and Dad won their case in Small Claims Court against the man who sold them the dog; he didn’t show, so they won a $100 decision by default.
My parents are now speaking to me; last night we had a long talk over some Junior’s cheesecake they’d brought home after SmallClaims Court.
Neither of them believes the energy crisis is real; they’re sure it’s cooked up by the oil companies and President Nixon, who’d do anything to take people’s attention from the Watergate mess.
With every new development in the Watergate story, things are getting fishier and fishier. But to think that Nixon is capable of playing with the fate of so many people . . . I don’t know.