A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Monday, April 1, 1974
Having just come home from the cocktail party for the new Board of Higher Education at the Graduate Center, I feel very pleased with myself. For one thing, I looked well: I wore my corduroy sport jacket, dark dungarees, an old button-down shirt and a solid tie.
I felt comfortable with my image; I suppose some people might consider me good-looking. When Mom showed my photo to the girl who does her hair in the beauty parlor, she said, “Oh boy, send him around!”
The reception itself went well. Driving there, I felt a bit nervous about handling myself in front of the members of the Board of Higher Education, but I realized that they, too, are new to their positions, and they put on their pants one leg at a time like me.
It was so strange to see everyone I know from the University Student Senate all dressed up, with suits and dresses on. Steve Shark took photos, and Alan was there, too. I spoke with Harold Jacobs, a Board member, who’s an elderly Jewish businessman from Brooklyn and a lifelong friend of Mayor Beame.
Clarissa and I spent some time in the company of Vincent Fitzpatrick, the Staten Island member of the Board. He seemed to be trying to impress us, telling us about his proudest accomplishments: being a senior partner in a prestigious Wall Street law firm and fathering six children, three of whom are in law school. (The two eldest got in by being brilliant, the youngest one got in by “Dad’s putting a little heat on Dean So-and-So.”)
A very nice person on the Board is Vinia Quinones, a black social worker at Lenox Hill Hospital, who brought her young daughter.
There was a lady bartender, and I kidded Jay Lunzer of Baruch for being a vegetarian while still smoking and drinking a whisky sour. He said, “Better that than eating meat.” Jay lives on the West Side and we talked about private schools there – I told him I went to Franklin – and how we both like to eat at Brownie’s.
Richie Rothbard and Cary Weiner pointed out the Queens College president, Joseph Murphy, who kept downing bourbons one after another. Jay Hershenson introduced Chancellor Kibbee, who in turn introduced the BHE chairman, Al Giardino, who used to be the president of the city Board of Education.
Giardino presented the other BHE members: Rita Hauser, a coordinator in the Nixon campaign; Franklin Williams, a black Republican; Dr. Gurston Goldin, a psychiatrist and the Controller’s brother; and Francesco Cantarella, who’s in charge of public relations at Chase Manhattan and who later told me about David Rockefeller’s recent trip to the Middle East.
Most of the Senate members were there, and some, like George Sawicki, monopolized the Chancellor. I had four glasses of ginger ale and some hors d’oeuvres and made small talk with Sid Kitain, Joe Lostrangio and his fiancée, and Sonia Wilson.
At 6:30 PM, I left the building – it’s quite a beautiful place – with John Boyle, who I dropped off at his apartment in Park Slope. John is the Staten Island Community College evening session delegate; he lives alone and drives an oil truck during the day.
It made me feel good tonight to feel I was a part of the workings of CUNY and to get closer to people who are, for the most part, very nice.
I awoke late today, and after picking up Grandpa Nat’s plane ticket for Miami this Thursday at the travel agent, I went to the Junction to xerox the sections of the books Ronna borrowed for me last week.
While I was sorting out my material in the LaGuardia Student Government office, Mike approached me on a project he’s starting. He wants to see if he can interest a publisher in a reader about our generation, co-edited by him and Hilary Gold.
Mike has a theory for his own article and wants to see if maybe I can work something up, too. We didn’t have much time to continue our talk, though, for Ronna came by and I went with her for lunch, as I was pressed for time.
Ronna had been up all night working on a paper and was a bit frowsy; years ago that might have annoyed me, but I can honestly say that it doesn’t matter to me at all how neat she looks. She had just come from a PIRG meeting and was enthusiastic about it.
We discussed how rough it is on her brother, caught between her mother and father. Billy is sick again, and I’m sure it’s from the strain. I kissed Ronna goodbye quickly after our meal and went off to New York.
Tuesday, April 2, 1974
As I drove over the Gowanus interchange to Mrs. Ehrlich’s today, the sky was a sickly purple and it was raining heavily. But somehow, as I told Mrs. Ehrlich, it didn’t matter: I felt good about myself and nothing else mattered.
Simply through little things, I feel as though I’m becoming an adult – and believe me, it hasn’t been easy approaching adulthood, although I have to admit facing the challenge is gratifying.
Yesterday at the cocktail party, I discovered that the Chancellor and the BHE members are just people like me, subject to individual frailties. By relating to them as equals, I felt myself rise up in station as they came down, and we met somewhere in the middle.
I also became aware of my own physical attractiveness; I expect family and friends to say I’m all-right-looking, but to hear a compliment from a stranger – an Italian hitter beautician yet – boosted my ego. I’ve always felt myself to be the ugly duckling of my family, and as such, I’ve reaped the benefits: that extra-special care that cripples receive.
Of all the Board members, I told Mrs. Ehrlich, I liked Vinia Quinones, the social worker, best because she seemed the most human. (I heard her tell Jay how she had to go out of town and escape meetings for a while to regain her equilibrium.) And in the birthday card I sent Felicia, I wrote, “Someday you’ll be a famous social worker like . . . like (I can’t think of any famous social workers).”
Of course, there is one, but I didn’t write her name down – and that famous (or infamous) social worker laughed.
This morning I went to see Prof. Ebel to tell him I hoped to have a first draft of the thesis by the week after vacation. He was very gracious, and we chatted about the academic bureaucracy; I told him a little about my desire to write fiction.
Prof. Ebel suggested that doing literary research is anomalous and perhaps inimical to creative writing and said I should go for an MFA, that I could always return to a Ph.D. program if I wanted to. And he agreed to give me a recommendation to the CUNY Grad Center. More and more, I think Henry Ebel is the most humane man I know.
And I feel that the thesis will get done – if not on vacation next week, then soon after. The comprehensive exam will come right after that, and by now I’m sure I can handle the exam, plus all my classwork, too. If I don’t pass the language exam now, I can always take it in the fall and get my degree retroactively. I’ll talk to Prof. Cooley about it.
Mrs. Ehrlich and I discussed how I’m beginning to flow with the rhythms of life. For instance, I can now take sex lightly, like on Sunday, and then enjoy it more.
Or another example: coming home from Richmond this morning, my car started making a terrible knocking noise. Instead of getting all upset and excited, I calmly went to Bob’s garage, where he fixed the trouble, a knocked-out spark plug.
I talked about Billy and how upset it makes me that his father and mother seem to hate each other more than they love him. On Sunday his father gave Billy a picture they drew and signed it “Ben, Leslie and Billy Caplan.”
That was stupid on Ronna’s father’s part, but her mother compounded everything by getting upset and demanded that Billy cross out Leslie’s name. Like Mr. Caplan, I may be too spoiled and want too much from a wife to share it with any children I have – but at least I realize it and so don’t want to have kids.
Mendy called last night to try to interest me in the Carey for Governor campaign, which he’s involved in. I may do something on a small scale, but at least it was good to hear from Mendy, who’s marking time at Fordham while waiting for acceptance at optometry school.
Allan Cooper wrote, apologizing for not calling during that hectic week he was in New York but saying he really appreciated me picking him up at Penn Station after his long train ride from Florida.
Friday, April 5, 1974
It was early Sunday morning and I was on my way to Rockaway, where the old bungalows were still up. Lincoln Court was deserted, and the early summer air smelled of the ocean. I tiptoed into Grandma Ethel’s bedroom and found nearly everyone asleep.
It looked the same: old white paint on the walls, strings from the ceiling to put on the lights, that faded linoleum on the floor. I found Aunt Arlyne asleep in one bedroom; Marty had gone out, she said when she woke up, to buy the Sunday News.
In the next room, Ivan and Vicky were still in bed; he was asleep, but she was awake, and absurdly, we shook hands. Someone asked me if I knew how the dream would end, and I said, “Of course. It’s a rerun.”
And I was outside on the porch, watching newborn babies, when the phone rang. It was Alice, concerned at first about waking me. I assured her it was okay, and she told me she had only a few minutes, as she was calling from school and just wanted to tell me that her story was in the Times today.
An hour later, after I recovered from a night of heavy dreaming by washing my hair and eating breakfast, Alice’s article was in front of me, on the Op-Ed page of the Old Grey Lady.
“Owning Isn’t Everything” was very good, even for Alice, and I agreed with her sentiments. She started by discussing how magical the elegant Rizzoli bookstore is at night, when she likes to browse the exquisite and expensive volumes.
Although she cannot afford “to better Rizzoli’s financial situation,” she experiences “worlds of joy by simply selecting a random book, reading passages and returning it again to the shelf. . . I learn and take from it what I can, without feeling the need to carry it away as my book.”
The idea of possession also applies to people. She is “deeply in love with someone, but I have no illusions about ever owning him. When we are together . . . sometimes for a while we share one life. But that is never meant to be permanent, and it never is . . . we return to our own lives, happy in what we have shared. . .”
Alice is truly amazing; I never realized how profound she could be.
The mail today brought several things of interest. The first was a letter from Maurice Kramer, the chairman of the English Department at Brooklyn, stating, “I would be pleased to consider you for an adjunct lectureship for the fall semester.” He included an application, which I sent back, and said he’d present my candidacy to the Appointments Committee.
I don’t want to get too excited about it, for there are many turns in the road yet, but it is, after all, the closest I’ve come to being offered a teaching position. It would be too good to be true, anyway, as I’d probably muff the interview by getting nervous and tongue-tied.
I got a thank-you note from Ira Harkavy for writing the Alumni Association letter with Karen and Maddy. He enclosed a copy of the letter, which will be mailed out all the ’74 graduates; it’s an egotrip seeing my name in circulation like that.
And I received a form to fill out for a job at the new Gateway National Park this summer; Mikey and Davey had told me about this. So – all in all – things seem to be looking up; I’m involved in some meaningful stuff after all.
It’s a warm, rainy afternoon now, and I find myself unable to concentrate on thesis-writing. But it will get done; maybe I’ll have a burst of creative energy tomorrow.
Passover starts tomorrow night. For the first time in years, we’re having a seder at my house. On Sunday night I’ll go with Ronna’s family. Ronna and I are going out this evening, but so far neither of us seems to know exactly what we want to do.
Monday, April 8, 1974
It’s after midnight, and I’ve spent the last seven or eight hours socializing.
Avis came over at 2 PM, lugging a giant pot she’d bought for Scott’s housewarming gift from the two of us. We wrapped it into some semblance of neatness and had lunch downstairs.
Just today Avis got a letter from Helmut listing the train fares from various cities to Bremen; she’s decided to fly out to Amsterdam from Montreal, where the youth fare is still in existence.
Avis mentioned that her sister and her boyfriend are separating as friends; they still like each other, but Ellen felt they were no longer in love. She wants to get a job with the American Film Institute in Washington anyway.
We drove over to Teresa’s brownstone in Greenpoint, which really is a lovely house. Teresa was in bed most of the day with a wretched cold; she could hardly talk. We spent two hours in her kitchen, drinking tea, eating matzos and gossiping.
Teresa’s going for a lot of job interviews, still hoping to find something; meanwhile, with her parents and grandparents in Florida, she’s enjoying free rein of the house.
We kidded around about Scott. Avis admires Teresa for dumping Scott the way Scott dumped her and so many others. But Teresa’s still hung up on Roger (who’s now into girls) and Costas (who’s supposed to be soon moving in with Joy, but I doubt it will ever happen).
Teresa went out with Sean on Saturday night and she says he’s such a baby. But after all, he’s only eighteen. Teresa laughed when he made a pass at her: “He thinks he’s Costas, but he’s not.”
We ran the gamut of LaGuardia gossip from Phyllis and Timmy (the consensus is she’s got him “pussy-whipped” and will drop him when law school beckons) to Elspeth, who’s seeing a married cop.
Avis is now through with Alan Karpoff and wants to settle accounts with him; I think she’s out for revenge. He seems so sweet, but then I’m not a woman and I suppose he acts and reacts differently with them. We laughed about the thought of any of us sleeping with each other. Although Avis and Teresa are both attractive women, I don’t consider them sex objects.
After leaving Teresa’s, Avis and I drove into Manhattan, sitting in the car outside Scott’s apartment on West 54th Street until 7 PM, when parking became legal. We were greeted at the door by Sheila, who has short black hair, a pixyish face, and a very elegant bearing.
The apartment is fairly nice, fixed up with a lot of stuff from Scott’s room and some things of Sheila’s. It’s small, and the kitchen is the size of a closet, but it’s cozy, and Scott kept the fireplace burning all night.
We had drinks first, and they really went all-out with the meal: first fried grapefruit, then veal, baked potatoes, ice cream, coffee and cake.
On the surface, Scott and Sheila appear to have an idyllic relationship, and I think Sheila is a good influence on Scott. He seems to worship her; he’s even all but given up getting stoned because Sheila doesn’t smoke grass.
I think Avis was a bit uncomfortable, especially when Scott told us Sheila was “the first real woman I’ve ever had a relationship with.” Avis drank a lot of wine and seemed to be talking a bit too much.
Scott has decided to go to law school in the fall, probably out of town, and I’m not sure if Sheila will go with him. Sheila is the daughter of a Reuters correspondent, about 22 years old, and a Catholic; they went to Palm Sunday mass yesterday.
They seem very well-adjusted to their jobs, home and each other. We sat in the dark, by the fireplace, talking for a couple of hours. I suppose I was the quietest one there.
Avis and I were their first real guests, and it was so obvious that they were trying hard to please. I liked Sheila enormously – and as for Scott, as I told Avis when I dropped her off at home, I’m glad he’s happy and together although I wouldn’t choose his lifestyle.
It did make me kind of queasy to see Scott with a job and an apartment; he’s free of his parents financially and psychologically and it made me feel like a failure by comparison. Still, I am making slow, painful progress.
But I am having trouble concentrating on schoolwork. Ever since I woke up on Saturday to find that letter of acceptance from the MFA program in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College, I’ve been so excited about it that I’ve been unable to get back to work on my M.A. thesis.
I feel secure to be going back to BC and excited at the prospect of returning to writing fiction – and hopefully finishing The Great American Novel.
Thursday, April 11, 1974
Spring has arrived – once again. It remains to be seen if it will last, but for now I’m content and ready to start on a new program of self-improvement.
Last evening with Ronna was very nice indeed. At times it’s amazing to me that our relationship has gone on for so long; although we sometimes have pretty good fights, it’s intense without that hysteria that sometimes, maybe often, accompanies being close.
She’s my friend more than she’s my lover – but she’s a very satisfying lover. Last night we fooled around – looking at magazines, watching TV, talking about the people we know – and finally making love.
I didn’t care if I had an orgasm, and perhaps that why, when it came, it was so good. For just being with Ronna and exploring our bodies often makes me feel terrific by itself.
Last night she said that my penis is “the first one I’ve ever wanted to get close to,” which made me feel great. People are starting to ask if we’re getting engaged or married soon. Well, we’ll just let them ask and continue the way we’re going for as long as we both are happy.
It’s not going to last forever. I agree with Avis’s sister when she told Avis that that kind of love doesn’t really exist anymore.
That reminds me: Ronna said that Susan saw Shelli on Friday. The other day I was trying to remember what Shelli looked like and I had trouble getting a clear picture of her in my mind.
Things change: that’s always been my personal fear and nemesis, but now I’m beginning to see change as an ally in life.
I took Ronna home after 1 AM and came home to bed. I lay awake; my penis was a bit sore from the workout but that made me feel even more like having sex again.
So I picked up Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and read until 3 AM or 4 AM; it’s a great book, and it reminded me of the first time I read it: it was on a windy spring day five years ago.
Back then I was ending the period of my “nervous breakdown,” my self-imposed confinement away from the world, and I was making my first tentative steps into the world.
I slept beautifully and awoke at noon to a warm, sunny day. Every spring seems to be a miracle; it’s the Easter season, a time symbolic of renewal. I’d like to keep growing personally.
Last night I spoke to Josh, who hasn’t heard from the MFA program yet and who doesn’t think he’ll be accepted. I hope he is – but in any case, I’m looking forward to it and wish it were September already.
And that brings me back to six years ago and the first time I entered Brooklyn College.
I stopped by LaGuardia today, when I went to buy Deaf Smith peanut butter at the Junction. Mike and Ron were there, sorting the mail; I never want to get that attached to LaGuardia or any other workplace or school that I can’t spend a day away from there.
Walking up to the English Department, I looked at their bulletin board, showing dust jackets of books published by the faculty. Maybe one day, I too will have a book published.
I drove out to the beach and rode around with the window open, looking at boys playing basketball without their shirts and girls bicycling down the Boulevard. I believe I’m coming to terms with my bisexuality.
For some reason, I thought of when I was around nine or ten years old and would ride my bike at night when the weather got warmer and day ended later, going from candy store to candy store trying to find new superhero comic books. That experience is still ingrained in me; every so often I dream about buying comics.
More and more, I think about my childhood; it’s odd how many things are coming back to me.
I’m trying to lose some of my disgusting paunch, so I’ve started a diet, begun weight-lifting and doing sit-ups again. There’s so much to do in life, and I don’t want to regret anything.