A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1974

by Richard Grayson

Sunday, February 10, 1974

An almost unbearable sweetness pervaded this day. It was so good that I practically find myself going back to the old neurotic feeling that I don’t deserve such a good time and so I have to punish myself as compensation.

Last night Avis called, inviting Ronna and me over to her house for a small dinner party today. It seems that her grandmother has gotten too senile for her grandfather to care for her, so her parents have gone down to Florida to make some arrangements.

When I spoke to Ronna about the invitation, she said she would go but expressed some apprehension. After all, it was going to be just friends of mine and she wasn’t sure she would fit in. Ronna has always been a little afraid of Avis, but then she’s never gotten to know her.

This morning I awoke late. Downstairs, after Jonathan had returned from his next-to-last bar mitzvah lesson before next Saturday’s service, I gave him his birthday card and the $25 savings bond; I think he would have preferred a more material gift.

Driving out to Rockaway, I walked on the boardwalk for a while; it was a cold, blustery day. Then I picked up Ronna at her house at 3 PM and after we walked the dog, we went to Avis’s apartment.

Alan Karpoff was already there, barefoot and sitting on the living room floor. We took off our shoes and joined them in watching an old Humphrey Bogart movie.

Avis explained that Libby and Dane, her Connecticut boyfriend, had gone to Chinatown to bring us back dinner from Wo Hop. We sat talking, and things were going pretty well; Alan and Ronna seemed to get along fine.

Libby and Dane arrived about an hour after we got there, bringing the food; while Avis and Libby were preparing the stuff in the kitchen, I introduced Dane to Alan and Ronna.

We all sat down for dinner, and it wasn’t bad; I mostly ate the lo mein as I’m not much for the more exotic stuff with shrimp and other seafood. But the talk around the table was very congenial, mostly about school and courses.

Avis said her sister’s sent out résumés, hoping for a teaching job in Film, and Alan said he’s decided to major in Film at BC.

There was the usual gossip. Alan said he’d been in Neponsit at a party with Max, his best friend, and he overheard Ivan saying something about “that bastard Alan,” not knowing Alan was there and within earshot.

I don’t think that Alan knew there was a connection between Ivan and Ronna. I guess you could say that there’s a connection between Ronna and Alan in that the rumor is that Alan used to be in love with Vicky before Ivan started seeing her.

But we’re an incestuous group. After all, Libby’s ex-boyfriend Mason was spending this weekend visiting my ex-girlfriend Shelli and her husband in Boston.

Ronna was afraid she’d have nothing to say, but she more than held her own in the conversation, and surprisingly, I saw a new side of her when she talked with Libby and Alan about her fencing and karate. Sitting across from her, I gave her a look signifying I was proud of her.

We went back into the living room to chat after dinner, though no one took up Avis’s suggestion that we get stoned.

Alan was the first to leave, giving Avis a warm embrace. Afterwards, Avis said they’ve become good friends, as opposed to last year when they were just having an affair.

Ronna and I left at 7 PM, wishing everyone well. We raced down in separate elevators and when we met at the first floor, we kissed and agreed we had a great time.

We also had a good time when we went to my bedroom for three hours. For both of us, it felt as if it had been years since we’d been with each other, and I think the earth moved for both of us.

It was a totally loving, giving, sharing day.

Monday, February 11, 1974

Soon I’ll be going to school for Prof. Cooley’s class at 6:30 PM. After yesterday, today was singularly dull. As I told Gary last week at lunch, reading literature is a phenomenally socially-isolating task, and being a person who thrives on the company of others, I can’t help getting bored.

Still, I’ve gone ahead in my work about three weeks’ worth in each class. And there are the artificial relationships I have with people on soap operas. But the more I watch them, the more I feel (and act) as if life really was a soap opera, and I’m not sure it is.

Oh yes, there’s all that surface movement of character and plot – like yesterday at Avis’s. We discussed various people we know. Beverly is still “looking for a job,” and Avis is becoming disgusted with her, I think.

Libby talked about her parents, especially her father, who’s rather an Archie Bunker type: how he despised Mason, whom he called “The Hippie,” for his long hair and his Jewishness. Dane seems to meet with his approval, though.

And why not? Dane is a blond WASP, rather countrified, with a hint of a New England accent – he’s from Cornwall, just south of the Massachusetts border – and he works for an oil company, so he can always get gas.

Dane is also very nice: one of those people whose very presence seems calming, with his pipe and reflective air.

After Alan left, Avis discussed the Karpoff family. Carl still seems to be put out with her for deserting him when Alan came home, but apparently Carl lied to Avis more than once. (“I told you so,” Libby said.) The whole Karpoff house is very free, with people sleeping over and walking around in towels and smoking pot in the living room.

Their father, the ex-actor, now the manager of the McDonald’s at the Junction, and their mother, the Neponsit real estate agent, have produced a strange brood, which includes their younger brother Kyle, who Avis says is probably the most talented and smartest of them and is also probably gay.

As I was saying, though: beyond all that surface junk, there’s layers deeper down and maybe even a pure of core feeling. Like with Ronna in bed yesterday: at first she was uncomfortable since my parents and brothers were upstairs, but finally we realized we had no place to go, with days of unfulfilled desire built up.

In bed, Ronna was at once warm and gentle, furiously passionate, protective and yet a bit vulnerable herself. Her shyness seems to have melted away, and I’m just as satisfied with our lovemaking as I would be with sexual intercourse; it usually gives me as much satisfaction, if not more, than coming inside a girl.

Although by now, I can’t remember making love with anybody but Ronna. We watched the English Edwardian serial in bed, and at 10 PM, I took her home, feeling so fond of her. It’s been nearly fifteen months, and I still care for her so deeply.

I slept well, although I did dream a lot, and this morning upon awakening, the sheets felt so clean against my body, the light from outside so luminous, I felt like lying there forever.

I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles most of the day, and I was very lucky when it came to getting gas: I was first on line as a station opened up and didn’t have to wait – just like in the old days.

The sun came out, and most of the snow has melted. I think we’ve had enough snow for one winter.

Thursday, February 14, 1974

This has not been one of the all-time great days of my life, but then again, I guess it hasn’t been that terrible, either. It’s nearly 5 PM and my head is splitting. This morning while washing my hair, I twisted my neck and now I get a sharp twinge if I move it too quickly or in a certain direction.

Yesterday, Prof. Fuchs’ class was surprisingly interesting as we went over Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. I came home, made myself lentil soup and scrambled eggs, got into bed early, and did some reading. However, I had a very restless night.

I had a Student Life Committee meeting at Richmond today, and in my mind, I had decided I would see Prof. Ebel asking him to direct a thesis based on paper. But I was nervous about approaching him.

I also wanted to start asking teachers for recommendations for a Ph.D. program; I’m applying to NYU, CUNY and George Washington University, and the deadlines are fast approaching. I have to get out the applications and transcripts soon.

This all was weighing rather heavily on my mind, even on my unconscious, for I had a bad dream that Prof. Hancock had rejected my poetry that he was supposed to help me with. I woke with a start around 4 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep.

And in the morning, after I snapped my neck, I received a huge disappointment in the mail: I did not win the playwriting contest at the University of Jacksonville.

Although I didn’t mention it to a soul, for the past few weeks I’ve been having marvelous fantasies about flying down to Florida to assist in the production of my play.

It would have given me such an ego-boost to win, and I could have used the $200 prize too – for one of my worries recently has been a lack of funds.

Dad has been giving me almost no money lately, and the cost of things has been going up. I’m not extravagant, but when you put together the cost of tolls, gas, parking, meals and just little things, it adds up to a lot.

Dad has been having severe business troubles lately: Grandpa Nat is away, Dad is practically running the business himself, and it’s going downhill; he just hasn’t been taking in money. And with the recession we’re in, things don’t look good.

I’ve got so many things worrying me, no wonder I’ve got a headache. I just couldn’t face the meeting and instead tried to relax by taking a drive into Queens.

Saturday, February 16, 1974

Jonathan’s bar mitzvah day. Right now I’m exhausted and glad it’s over, and so is Jonny, who has a cold.

We all woke up in darkness and went about putting on our clothes: Dad, the boys and I in our ties and jackets, and Mom wearing a dress and a hat. They left a few minutes before I did; I got to the synagogue at 9AM.

The man at the door gave me my talis (which had been left there for me), and I joined Dad and Marc in the first row. Mom sat in the women’s section in the first row, and Jonathan sat on the stage.

The service droned on in what was (to me) incomprehensible Hebrew and I was tired and nervous for Jonny’s sake. I could only remember one prayer from my Hebrew schooldays – the Sh’ma Yisroel – and so mostly I just fidgeted in my seat.

Grandpa Herb, who knows no Hebrew or prayer stuff whatsoever, tapped my shoulder, as he sat directly behind me, with Gary just behind him. Marty and Jeffrey were there, too, and Cousin Michael was with Joel and Monty.

I looked across the room and saw that Grandma Ethel and Ronna had joined Mom in the front row. Ronna looked stunningly beautiful and I was so proud and happy to have her there. Behind them were Robin, Aunt Sydelle, Shirley and Rhonda Cohen, and Arlyne and Wendy were up front, too.

Despite feeling that the whole thing was a meaningless ritual, I have to admit that I did feel good having family around me.

I went up to the Torah to get an aliyeh: it’s an honor, and I had to say some Hebrew prayer. Marc and Dad went up too, as did Jonny’s bar mitzvah teacher, Mr. Finn. (Grandpa Herb, a confirmed atheist, had refused one.)

And finally Jonny said the bruchas and his Haftorah. He recited it in a loud, clear, melodious voice that occasionally went out of breath – but it was beautiful. Ronna told me later that his pronunciation was perfect, and Mr. Finn said he was one of his best pupils.

We got through the rest of the service with a bit of impatience. The rabbi gave Jonny sort of a lecture-sermon on the responsibilities of an adult Jew. I was a bit angered when the rabbi, a bearded hulking Sydney Greenstreet of a man, told Jonny “good things come in small packages,” a reference to his height.

But finally the services were over, and there were handshakes and kisses all around, and we went down to the kiddush. There was a lot of food and about fifty people: Marc’s friends, like Steven and Joe (and his parents); a lot of Mom’s friends; Mr. Schindler (Lennie’s father) and Al from the hotel; Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney.

I spent most of the time with Ronna and Gary, and we talked a lot with Marty and Arlyne, who just got back from a skiing vacation in Vermont; Arlyne spoke about her English course and going to the Bob Dylan concert. Ronna said they were really nice, and we played with Wendy and Jeffrey, who was very proud of a loose tooth.

I introduced Ronna to Sydelle and Monty (Robin, Joel and Michael had to leave early). The only thing that bothered me was that Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia weren’t there.

Dad and Mom, of course, are always the perfect host and hostess, and I always feel socially retarded next to them. Ronna and I left after most everybody had gone. We will all see each other in two weeks in the country for the reception at George Gilbert’s Raleigh Hotel.

At home, I changed into jeans, and then we went back to Ronna’s house (still without electricity) and fooled around a while. Ronna knows Hebrew very well; she impressed Mom and Grandma Ethel by actually following and saying the prayer service.

I took her out to eat in Canarsie but I was so tired and my throat ached that instead of more time with her, I dropped her off at her aunt’s and came home to bed. Jonny’s in bed now with fever; the poor kid’s tired out.

Tuesday, February 19, 1974

A cold, steady rain was falling when I arrived at Mrs. Ehrlich’s this afternoon. Passing by all the Arab food import shops, I was reminded of a dream I had last night, and I told Mrs. Ehrlich about it:

I went into a store and noticed all different kinds of tea in different colored tins; I had an insatiable desire to buy all the teas and then try each one of them out. Even upon awakening, I felt like acquiring all the different types: Jasmine, Mint, Orange Pekoe, Formosa Oolong.

Years ago, I did collect teas and then I switched to herb teas. I’ve always had an acquisitive nature when collecting varieties of a product was involved. On Sunday in theTimes, I had read an article about the Atlantic Avenue Arab stores and remembered a line in it about the teas they carried.

Of course this had to do with Mrs. Ehrlich. “What did you think about me?” she asked.

“I just thought about you, period,” I said, but I knew that wasn’t good enough. I noted that I wanted to please Mrs. Ehrlich and the thought of doing my best and still not being able to satisfy her brought tears to my eyes.

Something very deep welled up inside me and it reminded me of my fear of approaching Prof. Ebel about directing my thesis and seeing other teachers about recommendations.

I told her that Ebel was genuinely friendly – which might make it worse; it’s more understandable to be rejected by a sourpuss, but being rejected by a nice guy says you’re not worthy – and remarked that he was interested in developing my ideas about Lawrence’s friendships.

He wrote, “The world, after all, is a large place,” when he wondered why Lawrence was attracted to a man like John Middleton Murry. It struck me suddenly that Lawrence may have been stirred into making Murry into his “blood-brother” precisely because he knew Murry would be disgusted by Lawrence’s ideas.

After all, I told Mrs. Ehrlich, people often feel one way and act another: from all external evidence, Murry would not seem a man to be very receptive to Lawrence’s ideas. We got back on the track of the teas and Mrs. Ehrlich herself – and I remembered Miss Stein, my freshman comp teacher, saying that jasmine was a sexual symbol.

Mrs. Ehrlich said I’m interested (perhaps like Lawrence) in knowing people and experiencing them in many ways, both men and women: sexually, sensually, intellectually, emotionally. Then why, she asked, do I limit myself to one girl – and a girl who will not be completely sexually intimate with me?

I was upset at this. “You mean I don’t really like being with Ronna?” I said.

She said that I assumed that she was taking away some of the real anchors in my life when all she was doing was raising questions. Aware that I was being defensive, I related the bar mitzvah events to her and said, “I thought I enjoyed myself; tell me I was mistaken.”

Mrs. Ehrlich said my illness on Sunday – in effect, I was saying “Leave me alone” to the world – was a reaction ten years too late. Essentially I thought I had enjoyed my own bar mitzvah, but really now I know I had felt wretched.

“So many questions and no answers,” I said. “I’m scared that we’re going to strip away all the things that are important to me or that I need, and there’ll be no core underneath.”

It really terrifies me, but as we concluded our session, Mrs. Ehrlich said that therapy does loosen veil upon veil of external things but she assured me there was a reliable, early core of feelings deep-down.