A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1974

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, January 23, 1974

“You must change your life.” Since yesterday, I can’t stop thinking about that line of Rilke’s. Obviously, if I want to change my life, I’m unhappy. Perhaps it’s because I know I’m facing the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face: leaving this house.

I know I’ve got to. Weeks ago, Mrs. Ehrlich said the longer I stay, the more I’ll begin to feel unhappy with myself. My mother (unwittingly, I suppose; I’d pity her if I could get past the rage) has made my life a kind of hell.

I realized tonight while preparing an herbal concoction for my face – my acne is so bad, perhaps because of the illness, that I’m embarrassed to be seen in public – that I cringe inwardly whenever Mom approaches, knowing that I’m doing something wrong: either sitting down so that I’m scratching the chair or spilling some tea on the carpet or something: generally messing up.

And of course all my life I’ve been afraid of the slightest deviation from this antiseptic existence. Last night Ronna and I had this delightful fantasy going, about how we’d leave the city and move to Woodstock:

We’d get a farm and we’d go barefoot and I’d wear flannel shirts and she’d wear long flowered dresses and we’d live surrounded by lots of gingham. We’d ride bicycles and maybe have a painted Volkswagen bus and bake bread and make our own clothes and have two or three towheaded kids in overalls.

Ronna and I both really got into it – and it does sound delightful. But it’s not that easy. The problem of adjusting to a new life – not necessarily a Woodstock one, but just moving out – is harder for me to cope with than any other problem: sexual, academic or physical.

Physically, I felt much better when I awoke this morning. Last evening I spoke with Gary, who’s been so nice about calling and inquiring after my health. He’s not too pleased with his first few classes of the spring term at Columbia even though their term just started.

Jay Hershenson also called. Perhaps he’s a shrewder politician than I perceive, or maybe I’m just easily deceived, but I feel he’s interested in me more as a person than as a potential political supporter.

Of course, he was interested in my conversation with John Fink, but we also talked of cabbages and kings, as friends, or so it seemed.

Today I went to LaGuardia to check up with Mike in arranging how we’ll get to the Senate meeting on Sunday. I found him and Cindy in the Student Government office with Joy.

The girls brought lunch for all of us back to the office, and I began to make progress in making friends with Joy. She’s really not a bad sort; she’s intelligent and quiet. Vito came in to join us, and Phyllis and Timmy dropped by.

The big news was that the flight to Austria that Teresa and Nancy were to go on was engineered by a bogus travel agent who absconded with the funds. Everyone arrived at the airport, all ready to go, and found that their flight tickets were counterfeit. They were all very disappointed, but Teresa and Nancy decided to go up to Canada for a week.

Mike and I were alone in the office at the end of the day, and we had a fine talk about girls. We both said that from time to time we still thought about Shelli and Riesa, but couldn’t manage going back to them, as we were different people when we were seeing them.

Mike told me that before Mark and Consuelo were married, Skip slept with both Consuelo and Stella. That never had occurred to me, but it would explain some things.

Vito told us that Joey dropped out of college after failing a test or something stupid like that.

Thursday, January 24, 1974

I still feel as though I’d like to change a few things about my lifestyle. Yesterday Kenny and I went to the art supply store on Nostrand Avenue. He had to get something forschool, and while waiting for him, I browsed around the store.

I’d like to get involved with doing some kind of handicrafts, but in the end all I bought was coral dye. I dyed a shirt and my bathrobe last night (and caught hell from Mom for “messing up”).

Anyway, I enjoyed being with Kenny, who invited me to a party Barbara’s giving this weekend. Both Kenny and Barbara seem utterly without pretensions and totally free to say whatever pops into their minds. Although I don’t know them that well, I just feel happy when I see them.

Dropping Kenny off at the college, I saw Riesa. Mike says he speaks to her every once in a while and that she is “celibate” and just goes out with girlfriends.

I spoke with Mikey yesterday while he was over at Larry’s house. Mikey registered at John Jay, but he seems a bit displeased with the college.

It’s a converted junior high, and the atmosphere is not the greatest; furthermore, about half the students are cops and he has to get used to seeing everybody walk around with shoulder holsters.

Mikey said he got a letter from Allan Cooper in Tampa, responding to the news that Elspeth is working for the Police Department. “She’ll be the first to go when the revolution comes,” Allan wrote.

All my friends – the ones who’ve remained in the city during intersession, anyway – seem to be as bored as I am. Bobby, having graduated this month, is hawking a line of posters, and he says it’s mindless work.

I called Ronna as she was about to leave for Kings Plaza, so I said I’d pick her up and take her there. It was good to see her again.

We pretty much have straightened out any difficulties we may have had, agreeing that it’s possible, and probable, that we both will become tired of each other after a while, but then at other times we’ll want to see each other more often.

We put the car by my house and walked to the shopping center. It was 60° and extraordinarily beautiful: more like April than January. We sat on the bench where she was to meet her sister at 5:30 PM.

At one point, I turned to Ronna, and for an instant, from a certain angle, she looked so beautiful and womanly. We talked about all the things we had planned to do over intersession; my getting sick canceled a lot of activities.

Sue came by, breathless as usual, after a day of taking inventory at the bookstore and talking with the “very cute” Stevie Evander. I went with the Caplan sisters to search for coats in Macy’s but then began to feel tired. I don’t want to have a relapse, so I walked home.

Last night I began exercising my body and my emotions, lifting barbells and beginning to readOpen Marriage, which describes the kind of good relationship I would hope to have.

Complaining of dizziness, Jonny came into my room at 2 AM. I diagnosed it as anxiety and probed a little; finally Jonny came to the realization that he was nervous about doing well at his bar mitzvah, only three weeks from now.

We talked it over and he got into bed with me and eventually he fell asleep. I felt useful, like I was a constructive member of the family.

Sunday, January 27, 1974

I don’t think I’ve felt so good in weeks. I had a fine night’s sleep: my dreams were pleasant (rowing out to Staten Island with Grandma Ethel and finding Jill and Marty at Richmond College), and the sheets felt so fresh.

When I awoke at 8 AM, there was an almost unbearable sweetness in the air. I still have a slight cold, but it made me reminiscent of good times in the past when I had a cold; somehow that was very comforting. And it was nice to get up early for a change and see the sun come up.

Mike arrived here a little after 10 AM and we drove to Manhattan for the University Student Senate meeting in my car. Mike had just taken Cindy back to her place; she had slept over at his house because they got home late after a day of antique-hunting in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

We arrived late at the Board of Higher Education because we had trouble finding parking, signing in to the meeting just as it was about to begin. Alan Shark began by opening nominations for Chairman, and as expected, John Fink and Jay Hershenson were nominated.

They gave rather vague platform statements and answered questions for about twenty minutes, then a secret ballot was taken. When Fred read the results – 16 votes for Jay and 7 votes for John – it was obvious that Jay had done his homework.

We broke up for lunch and deals for the vice-chairmanships were being made left and right. I told Jay that since Sam Farrell was running again for Graduate Affairs, I would drop out.

The vice-chairmanship didn’t mean that much to me, and I had my doubts whether Jay would support me against Sam, who placed Jay’s name in nomination, so I spared him the trouble of double-crossing me.

I was kind of pissed, then, when Jay asked Mike and me, while we were eating lunch, if we would walk over to John Fink and mention how we’d heard that he offered the job of Executive Director to several people; Jay hoped we’d scare John into not running again for Fiscal Affairs.

I felt Jay was using us to do his dirty work and we refused. After that, Mike was completely disgusted with the entire proceeding and vowed never to attend another meeting.

Through the election of Vice-Chairmen, it was obvious that Jay’s candidates all had enough support to win: Sam for Graduate Affairs, Joe Lostrangio for Legislative Affairs, Tasmania Wilson for Community Colleges, John Metcalf for Senior Colleges, Mike Abrams for Evening Sessions, and Walter Gunther (over John Fink) for Fiscal Affairs.

The process was long and boring; about the only relief from the tedium were Mike’s and my ballots. He kept abstaining, writing that all the candidates were incompetent, and on one ballot, I wrote, “Fred – your fly is open.” Upon reading it, Fred blushed and immediately sat down behind the desk.

Mike said that Jay will turn out just like Alan, but I’m going to give him a chance. The losing faction was really pissed and made noises about quitting. As we left, Jay promised me a seat on a Board of Higher Ed committee.

We said goodbye to the others: Steve and Richie and Brenda from Queens (Mike says Brenda is “a loose woman” and that she’s slept with Ron Z), and Steve Shark (I wonder if he knows that Jay plans to fire him as press director tomorrow). We also looked at the pen-and-desk set they gave his brother Alan for two years of service as Chairman.

Mike and I drove back to Brooklyn as fast as we could to enjoy the rest of this springlike day when the temperature hit 65°. I went out to Rockaway to watch the sun set over the beach; it was beautiful, with icy green waves and a rosy Van Gogh-like sky. I felt at peace with myself.

Wednesday, January 30, 1974

10 PM. I just watched the President give his State of the Union address before Congress. Essentially he seemed to be telling them that they should forget about Watergate and unite behind him so that the country could move forward.

Most members of Congress seemed to fall for the whole thing, and I guess we’ll be stuck with that crook as our leader for the next three years.

I awoke early this morning, feeling fine except for the foolish but severe pain of another ingrown toenail; I hobbled around all day.

I picked Ronna up at 11 AM. She had done the corrections on Tom’s thesis yesterday and he was to pick it up today.

Leaving the car by the Newkirk Avenue station, we took the subway into Manhattan, as I wanted to save gas as well as parking lot fees. It was a relief not to have to worry about red lights or the car in front of me, and Ronna and I could talk with more ease.

She spoke to Felicia last night. Naturally, because Spencer is such a fanatic fan, he and Felicia are going to the Dylan concert tomorrow night, and they have an extra ticket. But Ronna has to baby-sit for Billy.

Felicia said that Kevin has begun seeing a psychiatrist after having a near-nervous breakdown. The breakup with Felicia seems to have triggered it; he still hasn’t gotten over it and calls her.

But Kevin’s got a new girlfriend, Roz, who’s supposedly slept with fifty guys but has never been in love with anyone until she met Kevin. However, he’s afraid to have sex with her for fear that he’ll be impotent.

That’s really what’s bothering him. He goes to NYU law school and just stares off into space during class. Also, he had a virus and feared that he was getting rheumatic fever. Poor guy: I wish I could help, but I don’t know him well enough. I hope therapy helps him.

Ronna and I had a pleasant day. It was mild and sunny outside, and we got half-price tickets to a Broadway show at the booth on Duffy Square, then had lunch at Harry & Ben’s Delicatessen.

The play, That Championship Season, was very good and I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize; Ronna and I both enjoyed it very much. We beat the rush hour subway crush by just a little bit and were at her house drinking tea and eating cookies at 5:30 PM.

We really got along well and enjoyed the play we saw, but talking at home, we realized too late that each of us would have preferred to see another play (the same one!) but were afraid to tell the other person. Now that’s a bit of a communications gap.

Alice called after she and Renee ran into one of our old junior high classmates today, which made them decide to have a sort of reunion next week at Renee’s. I feel a bit silly going, and all Renee’s parties seem to end up with her getting drunk and sick, but I’ll go if Alice wants me to.

Things are pretty much the same with Andreas, Alice said – he turned 35 last week – but she had some good career news: Alice had an article accepted by Tambourine, a new teenage magazine.

Alice remarked how she, Renee and I are pushing 23 (Renee pushed it already), and it struck me that, as young as I am, I may already have become a bit set in my ways.

In the number-one song on the radio, Jim Croce sings: “There’s never enough time / To do the things you want to do / Once you’ve found them.”

What makes the lyrics even more apt and ironic is that Croce, who was a little-recognized singer before his death in an airplane crash last summer, has become a superstar posthumously.

More and more, I see the central human tragedy as not what Croce says – not having enough time to do the things you want to do – but as not knowing, really, what things you want to do.