A 22-Year Old’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, March 20, 1974
5 PM. I should be in Fuchs’ class now, struggling to keep awake during one of his boring lectures. But early in the day I made the decision to cut class – play hooky, if you will – I just wanted to have a small vacation.
Still, it hasn’t made me feel any more chipper, because I’m in sort of a blue funk. I have awful eyestrain from plowing through books for my comprehensive exam. It’s just a matter of time and work, but oh how I wish the term was over.
I think I shall find the workaday world a relief. Being a scholar – or attempting it, as I am – is so socially isolating. I suppose the same holds true for being a writer, though.
Last night’s class went well. Prof. Bogen still has her diarrhea (in reading a passage from the Bible, she Freudian-slipped and used the word shitty in place of “city”), but we managed to have an interesting lecture on the latter prophets.
Mom and Dad left this morning for several days’ vacation in Puerto Rico. Dad really needed the rest; he’s been so worried about his business lately. Hopefully I’ll be able to take a small part of the burden off his shoulders by working this summer.
And then I’ve got to start thinking of the future: I suppose I’m going to be ready to move out on my own soon.
But right now I feel so down that I don’t know how I can handleanything. I studied all morning and got a terrible headache, and so by mid-afternoon I thought seeing some people at Brooklyn College might make me feel better.
Jason, on campus for the Gay Festival, called me over to talk with him and his gay friends, most of whom are a little too queeny for my tastes. Jason seems pretty excited about the play he and Spring are in, and he still appears to have a crush with Mr. Sarney, with whom he’s going to the opera next week.
In LaGuardia, Ronna had just come back from covering the second day of the Gay Festival – today, a seminar on Gays and Religion – and was about to go with Susan to pick out a card for Felicia’s birthday next week.
I joined them and walked to the Junction, trying to enjoy the almost-spring day (the equinox occurs at 8:10 PM tonight). But somehow I did feel out of it. However, I was glad to see a familiar face when we ran into Brian.
He’s no longer managing the theater on Connecticut Avenue near DuPont Circle but is booking concerts in D.C. these days – “the perpetual hustle,” Ronna said – and is looking around for entertainment for impeachment rallies. (Yesterday, Senator Buckley called on Nixon to resign, and that really shook everyone up.)
It was good to see Brian again; the last time Ronna and I saw him was when we were in Washington last August. Funny: about a month ago, Mike asked me if I had ever had an affair with Brian. Apparently, there was some LaGuardia gossip to that effect.
In LaGuardia, I learned that Ron had won the Mugwump nomination for President over Sid and that he picked Eddie as his running mate.
Friday, March 22, 1974
It’s late afternoon and I’m looking forward to this evening. Ronna and I are going to Midwood to see You Can’t Take It with You. I wonder if being back in high school will flash back memories of my two years there.
I was such an unhappy kid then; it seems like a bad dream from centuries ago. For so long, I’ve tried to block off that part of my life: the crippling anxiety attacks, the loneliness, the adolescent search for my sexual identity.
But now I believe that it’s important for me to integrate that Richard Grayson with the person I am today. For only by understanding the past can I escape its horror; pushing it off into the outer reaches of my memory won’t work.
Of course, now I’m a different person from that skinny, blond, bespectacled boy who quietly but nervously sat at his desk in Spanish class trying to hold back the fearful nausea until the bell would ring.
Last evening I drove out to the beach to drop in on Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb. I sat with them a while as we watched the news. Ronna says I’m “a good grandson,” but I don’t do it because of that; I know I’m not going to see my grandparents forever, so I want to take advantage of their company now.
Today I mostly read and read and read for my comprehensive exam. In the past few days I’ve accomplished a lot: two plays by Shakespeare, two Restoration comedies, The Canterbury Tales and other stuff.
But I’m depressed. I’ve developed a bad case of diarrhea for the second time in two weeks. I don’t know if it’s emotional or if I’ve got some kind of stomach virus. I know how the diarrhea I used to get was psychologically induced, but I outgrew that symptom years ago.
I suppose maybe these defenses have a way of coming back; maybe the prospect of returning to Midwood tonight is inducing it. It was in high school that I suffered most from this and my other psychosomatic miseries.
Perhaps this is my subconscious way of contradicting my statement of a few lines back and showing me that I still am very much the frightened boy I was back in ’66, ’67 and ’68. I don’t like feeling this way; I thought I’d never feel that way again, being anxious about my health and afraid to attend a public event.
I thought I had wanted to go to the play tonight so much, but maybe I was wrong. I don’t know what to do; I suppose Mom and Dad being away has something to do with this, too. It could be a test I’m giving myself to see if I can behave like an adult.
Or it could, I suppose, be some physical illness: the stomach virus I used to dread.
Haven’t I learned anything about myself in these past years? How hollow all my personal achievements seem now. I feel like a baby and I’m very confused, so I suppose this is not the time to write clearly about things.
Saturday, March 23, 1974
3 PM. Today I went to Georgetown to see Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams for a second time, and I cried through most of the movie.
The whole film was about regret: how Joanne Woodward could never say she loved her mother, her son, her husband; how Martin Balsam made a vow after killing three young Germans in the Battle of Bastogne that he would never waste a moment of life – and of course, it was a vow he didn’t keep.
The movie was so lyrically beautiful in its depiction of the struggle to live, I guess it affected me because of last night. My diarrhea was really awful, the worst I’ve had in many years.
And I went back to my standard neurotic routine of panic and railing against my fate. I called Ronna and I was making her batty with my “should we go/ should we not go” nonsense and my whining. I knew I was driving her crazy, but I couldn’t stop myself no matter how much my own behavior appalled me.
Finally, I went over to her house and she came downstairs wearing a pretty dress. She had spent the whole afternoon trying to look nice, and there I was, selfishly spoiling her evening. I knew from her look that she was disgusted with me although outwardly she stayed patient and quiet.
As we drove to Midwood, I told her I had to go to the play, because if my distress was emotional, I couldn’t let it get the better of me; I didn’t want to even hint to sinking back to that awful pattern of avoiding people and events because I feared getting sick.
By that time, Ronna had a resigned, I-don’t-really-care attitude that I knew I wouldn’t change, so I held my tongue as we walked into the school together. The auditorium looked the same as I had last seen it, nearly six years ago, when I went to assemblies and Sings and stayed there with Gary when I came in early in the morning.
I didn’t feel that queasy; to tell the truth, I tried not to feel anything. But the memory of those lonely tortured days is not only with me: it’s as if I can still go back to that.
I was mentally ill then. All right, I know it was all a cop-out, but that doesn’t lessen the pain I went through as a teenager.
As we sat down, I looked at the kids around me and perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like an old, flabby relic from some past counterculture era. The boys and girls looked so fresh and firm and alive, and I felt tired.
Maybe it’s just our youth culture, but it wasn’t funny. I felt anger at what I missed at that age, the things I could have done had I not been such a neurotic.
The play itself was fear (Freudian slip: I meant fair) – not anywhere near the quality of college productions – and it was a bit dated. Jason was okay in his part and I liked Spring as a high-society type lady.
During one intermission, Vito (who was sitting with his gay friends) and I went over to speak to Mr. Sarney. He seemed to remember both of us, but perhaps he was being polite.
I said hello to Mr. Blaustein, and when I told him my name, he snapped his fingers and said, “Mumps!” – a reference to my junior year illness. When we left, I realized Blaustein and Sarney must have mistakenly thought Vito and I were lovers. But then, Vito and I used to mistakenly think they were lovers.
My stomach had settled a bit by the time we went back to Ronna’s house and she made us tea and sandwiches. As we took Trevor for a walk, at one point she leaned over and hugged me and said, “It’s all right,” and I knew she was trying to understand my behavior.
Upstairs, we sat on the couch holding each other and talking until 2 AM; neither of us was in the mood for doing anything more physical. When I got home, Marc’s party in the basement was still in progress.
I awoke at noon, feeling washed-out and empty, and I decided to go to the movies, which made me feel a lot better. I wish I could make such a film.
Tuesday, March 26, 1974
I have this terrific sense of freedom now, though I don’t think it stems from anything concrete, for I still have loads of work to do. Maybe it has something to do with seeing Mrs. Ehrlich and relieving myself of some things that have been weighing on my mind.
Before I went up to her, I found this new store had opened up on Atlantic Avenue, and I went into it. Called Two for the Pot, it sells herbs, teas, and coffees, and I bought some gunpowder green tea.
When I got to Mrs. Ehrlich’s office, I told her how much the store reminded me of my dream weeks ago about tasting all the varieties of tea near her – and I remarked that I smelled the comforting odor of coffee.
She said that maybe that showed that I’d like her to serve me a warm beverage.
I thought of my phone call this morning to Gary, who was disgusted with his Weight Watchers project. Last night the lecturer told them that “You people know that you can’t eat just one cookie – you can look at it or weigh it or smell it, but if you eat just one, then you’ll have to eat the whole box.”
Mrs. Ehrlich said that summed up my life: I’m always trying to have all the attention and love of her, Mom, and Ronna. I replied that I do have this fantasy of Mrs. Ehrlich being on call for me only, all of the time, without any other patients. I could have used her on Friday night – and as I told her the story, things became clearer in my mind.
I had forgotten why I quit Franklin School after tenth grade and transferred to Midwood in my junior year; the ostensible reason was that traveling to the Upper West Side was too much for me, but I realize now that I was scared to be too far away from home.
My desperate fear of throwing up was part of my horror at losing part of myself, of giving it away to another person; in a sense, it’s related to ejaculation. And I was known to Mr. Blaustein only for having the mumps, an illness: that’s sad.
The dilemma for me as an adolescent was getting out in the world with its possibility of getting hurt, or staying home and being protected by my family and having all their attention. When I had my breakdown in the fall of 1968, I chose the latter course because I just couldn’t face the persistent nausea I’d had in high school. And of course, the nausea was a way of avoiding scary situations.
Last Friday night, I faced two scary things (fear having nothing to do with logic): the hostile environment of Midwood High School, plus the absence of my parents. It all goes back to the theme of separation, the one fear that’s ruled my whole life.
I wonder if it all goes back, as the primal therapists would have us believe, to the anxiety of separation from mother at birth. It’s odd, I said to Mrs. Ehrlich, that I was able to go to Puerto Rico as a nine-year-old – but then the choice was to go away with my parents or stay at “home” without them.
I remembered things from that 1960 trip that I haven’t thought of in years: how, by the pool, I called a woman an “adultress” and she became furious but I’d thought it only meant a female adult; the terror at seeing the poor naked kids chasing after the car for money when we drove through a terrible slum; the hole I nearly fell into at El Morro Castle; and the sickening smell at the Bacardi Rum factory. All in all, tales of scary things for a nine-year-old, especially this nine-year-old.
“I’m moving to Cleveland,” I joked to Mrs. Ehrlich, actually hoping that one day I can break this tough umbilical cord.
Last night Prof. Cooley told me one more professor has to okay my reading list, and then I can take the comprehensive exam next month, at my convenience.
Gary’s very discouraged about his schoolwork in sociology at Columbia, and I really commiserated with him.
Thursday, March 28, 1974
Last night I was reading Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and then Jane Austen’s Emma until very late, and after I got myself roused this morning – I had slept heavily – I read Strindberg’s The Father.
My reading has been progressing so well that I find myself ahead of the schedule I had planned out in my mind. Soon I will begin the actual writing of the thesis, and hopefully I’ll have a completed first draft by the end of spring vacation.
All that schoolwork made me lonely for company this afternoon, so I headed over to Brooklyn College. I stood in front of SUBO waiting to see if Ronna would come out of her American Studies seminar, but I couldn’t find her – although I did see Davey, Robin and a few other people I know.
I went over to LaGuardia, where I found Vito in a strange mood, upset because this guy he was supposed to go to Europe with last summer (they parted at Kennedy Airport) is back and Vito doesn’t want him hanging around.
Vito says he’s seeing this stunning guy, Mitchell Cohen, whom he met at Macy’s, but he needed suggestions from me for what they could do on a date tonight. I told him about the things Ronna and I usually do, but Vito said things had to be perfect.
He also mentioned how embarrassed he was on Friday night at the Midwood play because he and his friends were acting very faggotty and making cracks – and then he found out that they were sitting next to Spring’s parents.
Earlier, Mike had interrupted my conversation with Vito to ask me to stop by his office for a talk about Mikey, so I went into 142 after Vito left for class. Feeling a little bit like a kid in the principal’s office, I waited for Mikey to get through with others, and finally I got to see him and he told me what was wrong.
It was what I expected: Mikey’s grandmother is deathly ill. Allan Cooper had mentioned something about it on Saturday, but things have gotten worse. Mikey’s grandmother had a seizure yesterday, and the doctor said that it’s hardening of the arteries, that there’s nothing they can do.
It isn’t even worth putting her in the hospital; she could go at any time but will definitely not last the month. Mike said Mikey is very upset; his grandmother and mother are the only family Mikey’s had for years. Mikey is now the John Jay delegate to the University Student Senate but he probably can’t make the meeting on Sunday.
I was very upset to hear about this and not sure whether to call Mikey or not. Anyway, Mike said he’d call me right away if there was any news about Mikey’s grandmother.
I went outside and met Melvin’s brother Morty, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, and then Ronna’s sister came by and borrowed a dollar to buy an old James Taylor album.
Then the three of us got into my car, and as I drove Sue home to Canarsie, we all shared a joint; Morty said he’s been getting stoned a lot lately. After we dropped Sue off, Morty and I went to Georgetown.
First we looked at the fish in the aquarium and then had dinner at the House of Pancakes. It doesn’t seem at all funny at the moment, but while we were stoned, it was all hysterical.
For example, the kids sitting near us were having a burping contest. When Morty thought our waitress thought that we were with these kids, he said, “We’re not the same people,” and I burst out with “What do you mean we’re not the same people? Aren’t you still Morty Phillips and aren’t I still Richie Grayson?” We laughed so hard I thought his yarmulke would fall off his head.
Oh well. It was very funny at the time. I suppose I got stoned because I had to escape the awful reality of the news about Mikey’s grandmother’s imminent death. I dropped off Morty at his house a block from here.
Sunday, March 31, 1974
Midnight – it’s been a long day.
At 10 AM, I picked up Mikey by Kings Plaza and we drove over to Mike’s house. He said his grandmother is about the same.
While we waited for Mike, Mike’s mother told Mikey how he should be more forceful in demanding the arrival of his car; the Datsun dealer’s been stalling for weeks.
Then we drove to Cindy’s house because she wanted to accompany us to the University Student Senate meeting. Mikey was in a grumpy mood, and Cindy tried to cheer him up as we made our way into the city.
The meeting was already in progress when we arrived; Jay was giving his informational report. After two meetings as the Chairman, Jay has the Senate in the palm of his hand; it’s absolutely masterful how he manipulated things to gain control.
The invited guest, Ramsey Clark, spoke on impeachment, which now looks more likely than it did just a few months ago. Clark, in his folksy, Gary Cooper-ish way, made some very thoughtful remarks, especially about how we should deal with the issue constitutionally.
It’s obvious that Clark has an overwhelming respect for the legal system as well as a fairly good background in literature, given his literary references. It’s too bad he’ll be creamed this year when he runs for Senator.
When we broke for lunch and I was on my way to get to the sandwiches, a girl stopped me and said, “Excuse me, aren’t you Ronna Caplan’s boyfriend?” It turned to be Sue’s friend Paula Rabinowitz, who is going to be elected the day session senator from Hunter this week.
During lunch, I had a chance to chat with people whom I’ve been getting to know: Richie Rothbard, Cary Weiner, Jay Lunzer: some of these people are very nice and I could see being friends with them.
Sam Farrell got the graduate students together, and Mikey joined us along with the other John Jay delegate who’s in one of Mikey’s classes; we’re having a meeting in two weeks to go over the problems of CUNY graduate students.
John Fink is a strange character; he was wearing an ascot today. Paula, who’s pretty friendly with John, says he’s in the process of getting a divorce.
Cindy looked bored as we got back to the agenda of the meeting, and truthfully, I got bored in the Board Room myself. The director of NY PIRG spoke and talked about all the research projects they’re doing, which all seem like fine ideas: investigating state legislators, nursing homes, drug prices and other issues.
We heard from Joe Lostrangio about the legislative package we presented in Albany and from the other “vice-chairpeople.”
A big item on the agenda was the introduction of a resolution that both condemned the cartoon of a nun masturbating with a crucifix that appeared in the CCNY paper and called for no censorship of college newspapers.
A long debate arose on whether to use the word “cartoon” or “caricature,” and when Steve Rosenberg suggested “drawing” as a compromise, I told Mike and Mikey it was time for us to go.
Mike and Cindy had to get to a surprise 50th birthday party for her uncle anyway. After dropping them off at Senior’s for the party, I drove Paula home to Canarsie and then took Mikey back to Rockaway.
On my way back to Brooklyn, I saw Ivan’s blue van driving up his block, but I didn’t feel like saying hello.
At Ronna’s house, we sat in the kitchen drinking bouillon until her father brought Billy home and her mother woke up from a nap.
Poor Billy: it breaks my heart to see how he’s being messed up so; every Sunday he’s caught smack in the middle of the crossfire of his parents.
Ronna and I returned to my house, where we had a very satisfying session of making love. The best thing about it was that it was so playful; we giggled even as we had orgasms. It’s nice that way, like being a child, having fun. Intensity is fine, but one has to remember that it’s supposed to be pleasurable above all.
We retired downstairs to watch Upstairs, Downstairs, and then I took her home.