A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, January 2, 1974
It was good to get back to the everyday world again.
Last evening I spoke with Gary, and for once he didn’t talk about Columbia. He’s been seeing this girl, Meryl, who’s 20, lives in Queens, and is a grad student at Hofstra, but he didn’t want to see her New Year’s Eve.
I guess he was so hurt by his experience with Wendy that he’s not anxious to get into a serious relationship very quickly. He was supposed to go to some party with Joel (who just broke off his own engagement), but that didn’t come off, so he ended up just going out to dinner with his parents, sister and brother-in-law.
I was reading in bed at 11 PM last night when I received a call from Jay Hershenson, the University Student Senate delegate from Queens. He said he’d like to see me about the Board of Higher Education situation and some other matters, and I arranged to meet with him at Queens College on Friday.
This morning I stood for an hour waiting to get gas; I guess we’re going to have to get used to “No gas” signs and long lines at the pumps. Grandpa Herb came over with Grandma Ethel to return a book I’d left their place. I worked on my paper for Ebel most of the morning.
On my way to school, I decided to grab a bite at Kings Plaza. While sitting at the Bun ‘n’ Burger counter waiting for my lunch, I began staring at this fairly ugly guy and soon I realized that it was Jerry, and that Shelli was standing next to him.
I wasn’t sure that they saw me, and for a split-second I debated whether I should say something to them. Finally I shouted out Jerry’s name (deliberately not Shelli’s) and we exchanged hellos, how-are-you’s; then I returned to my lunch and they disappeared. Just like nothing ever happened between the three of us – but I did notice that my hand was shaking a bit as I held my hamburger.
Still, I didn’t brood over the meeting for the rest of the day. Although Mrs. Ehrlich said my ordeal with Shelli and Jerry did leave some permanent scars, I’m wise enough to let old wounds stay healed.
Before class at Richmond, I went to the Student Government office to bullshit with Andrea. She’s fed up with the money-grubbing people in SG and is going for an interview with the National Lampoon; she does manage to create funny things for the Richmond Times.
I handed in my paper to Prof. Fuchs and sat through his lecture on Crime and Punishment – the last class of the term, next week being the final. I came home tired and hungry, but I was soon refreshed by dinner and a call from Ronna.
She said that she had insomnia last night and was thinking about our relationship. She realized that neither of us is the other’s “grand passion”; at first it worried her, but then she decided what we have is a good, solid relationship.
“Grand passions usually end up with a nervous breakdown or a suicide,” I told her. She said that if our relationship isn’t all that deep, it’s very wide and encompasses so many things.
There are times, I guess, when I take old Caplan for granted; but somehow she seems a constancy in my life, bringing me joy and support. And there are those times, let us not forget, that things become pretty passionate.
So if our relationship lasts, fine; and if not, we’d be mature and we’ll have a lot of good memories. I’m beginning to feel more optimistic about 1974.
Thursday, January 3, 1974
I went for a visit to LaGuardia today. Every time I go back there, I feel that it’s a second home for me. It’s so good to see people who know me and like me.
I walked into 142 and sat down next to Sid. Ronna breezed in for a minute; she had to rush off to register for next term, and she had a class after that. Sid and I got to talking about her. “Most people underestimate Ronna,” I said.
“I never have,” Sid replied. “She’s one of the nicest people I know, but you have to be gentle with her.”
Sid and I talked for a long time. I helped him figure out what courses to take and he spoke about what he’d like to do when he graduates a year from now. Mandy lent him a cigarette, saying, “I really shouldn’t give you this, knowing how bad it is for your kidneys.”
Of all the people in LaGuardia, Sid is one of the finest. I hope he does well in life.
Mandy said that Matt’s father died. He had a heart attack while crossing the street. The news really upset me.
Helen and Joy walked in, both suffering from colds. Joy still hardly says a word to me, but I’m not sure if it’s hostility or shyness. She doesn’t seem like a bitch, which is what Teresa and other people call her; maybe she’s being drawn into something by Costas.
Mason and Stanley came in and talked of the big news of the day: Leon has been seen around again. Stanley said that Shelli and Jerry were over his house and talked of seeing Leon at Ruth and Marty’s house, where he was dressed all in sequins and wearing high heels.
Mason said he saw Leon briefly in Kings Plaza yesterday, in the company of a short, chubby girl. Mike mentioned that Leon popped in and out of the office yesterday, with this girl, and they left before he could introduce Cindy and Joy to “the legend.”
The final story I heard about Leon was from Avis: she reported that he’d shaved off his beard and looked “very pretty.”
Mandy asked Stanley how Jerry and Shelli were doing; he replied that they were “barely subsisting” in Boston.
I exchanged brief hellos with Mara and with Debbie, who’s driving down to Florida with her father for intersession.
Carl and I had lunch in Campus Corner. He’s still very excited about becoming a Dance major, but honestly, I wonder how long his enthusiasm will last.
He had an upset stomach from some No-Dōz that Avis had given him when they were studying together last night. Carl said that Alan was home and his girlfriend was living at the house with them.
Back in LaGuardia, I got the living proof: Alan Karpoff in person. We shook hands warmly and he told me that his long mountain-climbing trip through South America was “fine” and that he was looking forward to making a fresh start at college.
Jon K joined us, much friendlier than I’d ever seen him. He said he’s into bicycling a lot, is still working at the Day Care Center, and told us that Laurie loves working in the Eighth Street Bookshop.
Nancy came by and showed me her ski instructor’s badge; she’s going to Austria for a while to teach skiing and currently is winding up her student-teaching.
Little by little, people seem to be finding their way in the world. Oh, it’s a difficult process, with a lot of groping, but we get somewhere in the end.
The others left, and it didn’t look like Ronna was coming, so I walked with Mason and Cheryl to the Junction. Although Cheryl is getting married in June, she still hasn’t learned that she really should wear a bra.
Mason wants to go to Atlanta for intersession. Paul is moving there to look for a job in broadcasting, so he’ll have a place to stay.
I took the bus home – every little bit helps in the fuel shortage – and did nothing the rest of the day.
Friday, January 4, 1974
It was snowing when I arrived at Mrs. Ehrlich’s last night. When I came in to her office, I told her, “The driving conditions are hazardous,” trying to convey the feeling that I wouldn’t go out in such bad weather for everybody and hoping she would reciprocate the feeling that our relationship was special.
Why do I have to come to her, I asked; couldn’t she come to my house or at least meet me halfway? I thought of how Rochelle Wouk decided not to come in to Brooklyn anymore after a harrowing drive back to the country.
Mrs. Ehrlich noted that it was a year since that event as well as my starting therapy with her and she felt that maybe the snowy weather put it back in my mind again. I started to say that Dr. Wouk shouldn’t have “deserted” me, but then I said, “That’s not logical.”
“It’s emotional,” Mrs. Ehrlich said. “It’s psycho-logical.”
So I said Dr. Wouk’s leaving had felt as if my mother had called one day and said because it was raining so hard, she couldn’t come home anymore. Mrs. Ehrlich smiled, saying I’d hit the nail on the head.
I stared at a Dewar’s Scotch carton and wondered if Mrs. Ehrlich had gotten drunk on New Year’s Eve. That would upset me, as I have such expectations of her. Yet I have fantasies about her being a drug addict, of holding a witches’ coven behind the screen in her apartment, that she knew the secret of life but wouldn’t tell me until I spent my $25 a week for years.
And those fantasies make sense, emotionally: I wonder if she’s a junkie the way I feel I am addicted to her. If feel as though she’s both a goddess and a charlatan, much like the teenage Guru Maharaj Ji, whose followers receive “the knowledge” and are advised to live humbly while he tools around in a Rolls-Royce.
Suddenly I talked about the gasoline crisis, saying how people were so stupid and making a bad situation much worse by panicking and filling up when they still had three-quarters of a tank.
“Some people panic and turn difficult things into disasters,” Mrs. Ehrlich said.
“Do they?” I said innocently, then laughed: “I guess I do.”
I talked about my fear of dying, which is so deep-seated, I never think about it consciously. But as I talked of Matt’s father and how Sylvia Sidney died in the film Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams that I saw last week, I realized that my fear of death rules my life.
I thought of a long-repressed episode: when I was five, I was terrified by a TV documentary showing a human heart beating and said how, for the next few years, I kept checking my heartbeat every once in a while, to see if I was still alive.
Today my fear of death exists on a much more sophisticated level; it’s what makes me afraid to move out of my parents’ house, and of course it was partially responsible for the period, five years ago, when I couldn’t leave the house at all.
“While you’re so terrified of dying,” Mrs. Ehrlich told me, “you miss out on a lot of living.”
Agreeing that’s something we have to work on, I left her office, feeling optimistic.
Today I woke up to two inches of snow and drove out to Queens College. Jay had arranged for me to park on campus; the campus there is really beautiful. I had lunch in the Student Union building, walked around for a while, and then, in the Rathskeller, met Jay and Joe Lostrangio, the University Student Senate delegate from Queensborough Community College.
Jay wants to run for University Student Senate Chairman and Joe for Vice-Chairman for Fiscal Affairs. John Fink of Hunter is also running for Chairman, but I think he’s too much of a conservative bookkeeper-type.
They brought up my running for Vice-Chairman for Graduate Affairs, and we all agreed to support each other. It sounds like grubby politics, but I really think they’d be okay. And I don’t care if I win or not, so I’m not terribly afraid of a double-cross and wouldn’t be surprised by one.
Jay seems in earnest when he says he wants to be a strong USS Chairman to do good things for CUNY students; he’s a good administrator and knows Dean Gold and Harvey from when Harvey was Student Government president at Brooklyn.
Going off the Queens campus to the parking lot, I ran into Steve Rosenberg, who said he just dropped two classes on the last day of the term. Every college is the same. . .
Wednesday, January 9, 1974
6 PM. I suppose I’m on vacation now. I should be taking Prof. Fuchs’ final now, but when we got up this morning there were five or six inches of snow on the ground, and when I called Richmond, they said all classes were canceled.
I later phoned the Humanities Division and I learned from Prof. Fuchs’ secretary that he was canceling the final and would grade us on our term papers. So the fall term has come to a rather abrupt end, and I’m free until February, having already registered for the spring term.
Last night, I spoke to Mrs. Ehrlich about Mom and Dad’s fight last evening. Seeing it as an observer, I could see how other things must have been operating: perhaps they were both anxious about a new social situation, going to a reading as a potential financial backer of a Broadway musical.
I remember a big fight while we were rushing to the catering hall the night of my bar mitzvah reception at the Deauville. I suppose it’s been taught to me that one way to release tension is to have a knock-down, drag-out fight at home so you can appear calm in public afterward.
I remember doing it when I first began to date Ronna: I’d pick a quarrel with Mom before I went out on the date. But that’s emotionally dishonest.
When I have had the presence of mind to ask another family member if something’s bothering them, I get this look of almost self-pitying puzzlement: Why bring up trivial things like feelingswhen Dad’s cufflinks are missing?
I remember my father telling Dr. Lipton the one time my parents came to my therapy when I was in high school, “I guess the best thing to do sometimes is repress upsetting feelings,” and the glance that the old doctor and I gave each other upon hearing thatremark.
But Mrs. Ehrlich said that that’s “a typical American male reaction”: ulcers and high blood pressure are better than crying. Dad and Mom both become furious whenever I cry, but Mrs. Ehrlich said it’s sometimes the most adult thing you can do.
Of course it can build up and then burst out over something not terribly significant or even relevant – like the Saturday night free-for-all we had a few weeks ago.
I wondered whether the atmosphere at home wasn’t, in a way, bringing me back a step when I go two steps ahead, trying to get in touch with my feelings. “I suppose what I’m saying,” I told Mrs. Ehrlich, “is that I should move out.”
But then I said that the illusion of family love may be preferable to having no family.
Mrs. Ehrlich said that some people solve that by having their own family. But I stuck to my idea about my being afraid of hurting any kids I’d have: I don’t want to inflict guilt on an innocent child, and I’m afraid I’m too inbred with my family’s neurotic behavior not to do that.
And I wouldn’t want my child to one day resent me.
I became very sad thinking of all the time and energy I wasted on hurt, guilt and self-abuse; I even felt a few tears forming.
But maybe not having a family – or at least being so adamant about it – is copping out, in a way, being too scared that I’ll fail.
I told Mrs. Ehrlich about my meeting up with Shelli and Jerry, and like Ronna, she was pleased that I could handle seeing them without much emotional upset.
When I got home, Dad called from the Foursome after the show reading was over and kept repeating that he was sorry I didn’t get to see it. “After all,” he said, “you know more about this than 97% of the people here.” I was extraordinarily flattered by that.
And when he and Mom came home, they came up to my room and sat there until 1 AM, discussing the show. Called Annie and based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, the play sounds like it will be a resounding flop on Broadway.
Too bad Dad says he may have to invest something in it because of his friendships with Lennie and with George Gilbert from the Raleigh Hotel. At least Mom says the show has one good song, anyway.
I liked talking to my parents as people, though.