A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Friday, April 12, 1974
This morning I got a newly-published novel out of the library: Solomon’s Temple by Stanley Hoffman, a creative writing teacher at Brooklyn College.
It’s the journal of a 25-year-old English Ph.D. student who is enormously overweight and a virgin to the point of never even holding hands with a girl. He joins Pounds-A-Weigh (obviously Weight Watchers) and becomes trim, handsome and sexually successful.
The Times Book Review panned it as having no soul, and I agree a bit with that. But what makes it interesting to me is that this guy was in my position, writing a journal.
I’m certain it’s autobiographical; I even looked at my diaries and figured out from remarks about the weather that it was written in 1969-70. If this guy could do it, why not me?
I think that my struggle, whatever it is, has been more exciting than his. I can almost see my novel being published; more than ever, I know that’s where I’m heading.
I spent the afternoon with Josh; I do hope he gets into the MFA program or at least takes courses as a non-matric because it would be so great for me to have a friend doing that with me. Josh has entered the Ottilie Grebanier playwriting contest at BC. Wouldn’t it be terrific if he won the year after I did?
First Josh and I went to the Prospect Park Zoo today, but very few animals were out, and those that were seemed pretty mealy-looking. For some reason, there were millions of Hasidim all over the zoo, so we headed for the Heights.
Over lunch at Mr. Souvlaki on Montague Street, Josh asked me if I thought Allan Cooper was gay. When Josh took him to the airport, a middle-aged homosexual talked to Allan, and they had been to the same gay bars.
Josh doesn’t care one way or the other, “but it’s a puzzle to me.” I offered the suggestion that Allan was probably bisexual. Since returning to Florida, Allan wrote Josh that aside from me, Mikey and Bobby, the LaGuardia crowd didn’t care a bit for him.
I think he was hurt that more people didn’t see him on his last visit. Josh and Allan are planning to move in together in June, when Allan comes up north after graduating USF.
Josh and I looked in an old bookstore, then watched all the weird people on Montague Street before going home; when I dropped him off, I went up to say hello to Josh’s parents. They’re in their sixties and Josh says they fight night and day.
Last night Gary called, feeling upset about being brushed off by this girl. Robert’s wife has been trying to fix up Gary with a friend of a friend, a recent divorcee and Phys Ed major at BC.
She agreed to go out with him Wednesday night, but last night she told him, “Gary, we’d better cancel our date. I don’t think we have anything in common. You’re too intelligent for me, and I don’t know how to handle it.”
I bet that’s the first time anyone ever said that to Gary. He’s a nice guy, all right, but with a very bland personality. (Avis mentioned running into him and said, “He nearly bored me to death after a five-minute conversation.”)
I told Gary at least I never tried to fix him up with any girls, and he said, “What about Melissa?” I laughed and said that was Shelli’s idea, but it got us talking about the old days, about Kieran and Sindy and others I’ve forgotten.
I wonder where Melissa is, and whatever happened to her cousin David, my pen-pal from Mensa when I was in high school. I’ll probably never find out.
During the night my body ached from all the weight-lifting I’ve been doing, but it felt good. I took off my underwear in bed and lay naked beneath the covers. With the aches, it was like being aware of parts of my body for the first time. I think I’d like to do manual labor for a while.
I can’t begin to look at my thesis. Somehow, now that I’ve been accepted to the MFA program, it no longer matters very much.
Sunday, April 14, 1974
3 PM on Easter Sunday. I’ve just been driving around Rockaway in the fog trying to sort out the pieces of my life so that they make sense. (I saw Ivan and Vicky in his van, but didn’t want to speak to anyone.)
My spring vacation is over, and what have I done? I set out to finish a 50-page thesis and only got up to page 15 – and it was a struggle to get that far. What am I going back to?
Already, Richmond College seems like a part of my past. I feel that finishing my courses will just be an anticlimax now that I’m going out into the MFA program at Brooklyn. And I’ve begun to get ideas for stories; they race through my mind uncontrollably at times.
At home, I’ve finally begun to realize that my parents have taken me as far as I can go; I’ve got to start out on my own.
I’ve been having a lot of hassles with Mom lately. I have to face the fact that whatever I do in life, whatever “success” I have, I can never make her as proud as Rhonda Cohen did simply by marrying a dentist.
For weeks, Mom’s been writing out invitations in her neat, beautiful handwriting; going to bridal showers; shopping with Rhonda for a trousseau. Mom should have had a daughter instead of me; maybe that feeling on her part accounts for my sexual confusion.
Last night I arrived at Ronna’s with a bouquet of blue daisies. I gave her the presents I got her: a box of assorted scented soaps; a furry frog named Fleegle (so cute I almost felt like keeping it to cuddle for myself), some note-paper and a three-volume set of the works of John Steinbeck (inscription: “To a promising young Americanist”).
She liked the gifts and read the two cards I got her. One featured a pretty little girl in a garden. The other read, “To a Wonderful Woman – who makes every day happy, not only for others, but for herself.”
I deliberately chose a card for Ronna that said “woman”; Avis told me that she thinks it’s important to use that word instead of “girl.”
And Ronna said she was glad about what I wrote on it myself: something to the effect of, “If I don’t love you constantly or forever or so intensely, I want you to know that I do and have always cared for you as a person, a woman, a friend.” Ronna says she often feels the same way about me.
We waited for her grandparents to return from synagogue to have the birthday cake; before I knew it, her grandfather had plopped a yarmulke on my head and was reciting the kiddush for wine.
Ronna blew out the candles of her kosher-for-Passover cake (which she baked herself) and opened her cards and gifts from the family. Sue wrote that she was “beautiful”; Billy made up a riddle, “What’s warm and soft and lives at 772 East 83rd Street? (Answer: Ronna.)”; and her mother gave her a bright red bathing suit.
We hurried over to my house to see Much Ado About Nothing on TV. Although Marc had told me I could use the basement tonight, he was down there, smoking pot with Rita, so Ronna and I went upstairs to my room and finished watching it in the basement after Marc and Rita left.
Much Ado About Nothing was a very beautiful show, set in the Gay 90s, with Kathleen Widdoes, Sam Waterston, Barnard Hughes, and Douglass Watson from Another World.
We ate oranges, and after the play ended, we switched channels, looking at some old movies, and talked.
Ronna wanted to know if all the things I’d written meant that I wanted not to see her anymore. I said no, of course not, but that I didn’t know if she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. There’s so much in life, we both agreed, that each of us have to do and see and find out.
“But,” Ronna said, “there’s some things I don’t want to do alone,” and I hugged her tightly and said, “I’ll be around all the time. I’m scared, too.”
She and I hugged each other and then noticed it was after 3 AM, so we started to leave. At the door, we saw Dad being dropped off; he’d gone to the Monticello racetrack with Lennie and said that the drive home in the fog was treacherous.
Monday, April 15, 1974
I awoke this morning from a cacophony of dreams and had a splitting sinus headache. Even now my head is filled with mucus and I can’t seem to concentrate on anything because of the pounding.
I feel that when I have sinus trouble, it affects my sleep as I float from one dream to another, unable to rouse myself. These past two days, my dreams have been pleasant, though: mostly about Brooklyn College.
I wonder if I’m opting for safety by returning there. But maybe I need the security of going to school in a familiar place if I’m to be able to break away from the past in other ways: by moving out and finding a job.
Tonight I’ve got Prof. Cooley’s English Novel class; it seems like months since our last class. I have little enthusiasm for school now. This morning I felt like I used to in public school and high school when a vacation was over: a small spot of dread gnawed in my stomach.
I feel as though I’m just marking time, but I don’t know if I’ll be any happier in the MFA program. My thoughts are so scrambled, I sometimes think I’d be better off if I weren’t so bright and aware of all the possibilities.
Ronna said she was feeling more cheerful since Saturday night, when her birthday made her upset. When I took her home, she said that there are two different things: growing up, which is good, and getting old, which is terrifying because it means dying.
Ronna’s only 21, but I’ll be 23 in June. My god, I used to think 23 was an ancient age, an age when people were completely grown up and secure in their futures. But I’ll still be floundering.
What if I never find anything that makes me happy? Is security supposed to come from within, or from friends or job or home?
This morning I parked on a block by the beach and began writing a story; it takes place in Washington in the summer. I realize another reason I love writing: it offers me escape from harsh reality into a world that I completely control.
Yesterday I called Mikey, who seems okay, but a depressed. I don’t think he’s sure of what he’s doing in his graduate program at John Jay, either.
And Scott called today. When I told him that I had never seen him happier than I did last Monday, he asked, “Did I really appear that way to you?” as if he couldn’t believe it himself.
He said that I was very quiet last week, but he was more interested in Avis’s reactions. Sheila feels that Avis is still interested in Scott, but I think that’s nonsense; maybe that’s what Scott would like to believe.
Avis annoys him by bringing up Teresa’s name; I know she does it purposely, for it makes Scott apoplectic. It’s funny, though, that with all that Scott has, he still needs me to reassure him.
I can smell grass coming from Marc’s room now: another form of escape from reality. There are times when it seems that everyone’s running in a big race to keep from facing their life or themselves – like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
I called up for that assistant theater manager job, but it’s five and a half days a week at only $2.25 an hour, which is ridiculous. But at least I made a first attempt: “an important step,” Scott said. (See, I have to use him to justify and reassure myself, too.)
I can see that I’ve been living a paralyzed, neurotic life for so long: afraid to move in any direction. Changing that is so hard, though; it seems like I’ve been working at it seriously for so many years, and I still have so much of the struggle ahead of me. At times I would like to escape into another life.
Thursday, April 18, 1974
6 PM. Life seems so utterly delicious today; I’ve spent the day skylarking and enjoying myself enormously.
I’ve been on my diet for a week, and I’ve been lifting weights every day. I passed a mirror without a shirt on a little while ago, and I had to do a double-take.
While I’m not exactly Mr. America, I was surprised at the muscles popping up. My chest is getting firmer, and finally the first hairs have begun to sprout.
Last night Ronna interviewed me and Dad for her mother’s survey research work, asking us about various sportscasters. Ronna is being followed around by Arthur, the young Kingsmanphotographer, who I think has got it bad for her.
Arthur’s slimmed down quite a bit, and he’s a nice kid, but I’m not very worried about the competition. When I feel as secure as I do now, I realize that I love Ronna a lot and it doesn’t bother me if she gets involved with other guys (although I don’t think Arthur has much of a chance with her).
Still, I almost have to root for Arthur a little. He sent Ronna a belated birthday card, which was sweet – and it was also the way I started to get her to notice me!
Last night, after we did Ronna’s survey, Dad and I had a really fine talk, the kind I’ve always wanted to have with him. Marc was at Fern’s, but Dad thinks he still likes Rita, whom Dad considers “sneaky-looking.” We gossiped about Scott and Avis, and Ivan’s family, and Shelli, about whom Dad said, “With her avoirdupois and other stuff, I don’t think she’s going to live very long.”
Josh woke me up at 10 AM, and I hurried to meet him at his dentist an hour later. Josh went to see Prof. Spielberg yesterday, and Jack Gelber is looking over his play.
There’s a good chance he’ll get into the MFA program, which will definitely start in the fall. I can hardly wait until September. It’s like the best of everything: writing and being with my friends at Brooklyn.
Josh and I drove to the old LIRR tracks, where he wanted to do his final project for a Film Studies class. We got out his movie camera and tripod and he shot footage of the abandoned cars, crumbling old houses, and the freight train that passes through once a day.
Oddly enough, the last time I was down on those tracks, it was also for a film, one Leon was shooting. After about an hour of Josh filming there and on Kings Highway, where old people crowded benches, we bought a couple of reflectors and some Swedish Tanning Secret and headed for Rockaway.
We ran into Mikey, who was bicycling towards Riis Park, and persuaded him to join us on the boardwalk to chew the fat and take in the sun. I got a little burnt; it was wonderful being warm again.
While Mikey and Josh were discussing cars, I hopped on Mikey’s bicycle and rode around Belle Harbor, having a lot of fun. Josh talked about living with Allan when June rolls around; I got a letter from Allan myself today.
After a few hours, Josh and I said goodbye to Mikey, who caught up with Larry, and drove to Kings Plaza, where we had lunch at the Apple Tree.
Passing Stacy’s block, Josh said he felt sorry for her, that she wasn’t really bitchy but just must be very messed up. I’ve been thinking about Stacy some lately – Mikey said she’s living at home – and I realize I care more about Stacy than I do about Shelli.
I took Josh home at 4:30 PM. He says he may write a letter to Julia, and I’m curious as to how she’s doing. Lately I’ve become very close to Josh; I do hope he gets into the MFA program.
I called Teresa, who’s been quite ill. The day after Avis and I saw her, her throat closed up completely and she had to be rushed to the doctor. She has mono. Teresa might have gotten it from Spring, who had it in February.
So Teresa has to take it easy for a few weeks, but she did invite Ronna and me to her house next Saturday, her birthday.
In today’s mail, I got my transcript from Richmond, and the good news is that Prof. Fuchs finally changed my Incomplete to a Pass. The better news is that I’ve made the Dean’s List.
I received a letter from John Houseman at Juilliard, thanking me for the congratulatory letter I sent him after he won the Oscar: “For your kind words and your thoughtfulness during the recent agitation – a thousand thanks and all my love.”
Now there’s a gentleman for you. Someday I would like to be like that. But at the rate I’m going, who knows when I’ll ever be considered a man.
Yesterday I got my first special delivery letter, from the University Student Senate, about a bill sponsored by State Senator Marchi that would abolish student newspapers sponsored by student activity fees.
I called Senator Halperin – I should have asked to speak to Hal, who’s on his staff – and his office told me he’s against the bill. When I called the USS office, Clarissa said Jay was up in Albany lobbying against it.
Late tonight, Jay called me and said that due to his lobbying efforts, the Marchi bill is being stalled for two weeks. Jay said he’d had a lot of trouble with Fred, who’d kept asking BHE members for a job, and finally Jay asked Fred to resign at the Senate’s executive director and not return to the office anymore.
I told Jay how the Chancellor’s Grant Fund Advisory Committee work was going, we gossiped about the Board members and PIRG – he’s on the state board of directors – and Jay expressed annoyance that Mike is not keeping in touch with him.
Jay is a master politician; he has a finger in every pie and actually uses his power to affect government decisions. I could never be like him: I feel that I owe myself a good life before worrying about anything else. This makes me feel very self-centered.
Alice also called tonight. She’s in bed with the flu and is hoping to get better so she can attend a weekend seminar in advertising copywriting. (Alice was one of 35 selected after taking a test.)
Alice did manage to get out her biweekly edition of Henrietta and was, as usual on 3:30 PM on Wednesday at the Junction, “taking verbal abuse from the old biddies” as she handed out copies of her mimeographed magazine to older women. And Alice said she was working on a Flatbush Life article on Jews for Jesus.
She also reported that Renee got a job doing neurology research at Brooklyn Downstate Hospital (although Renee’s personal life is still unhappy) and that Robert passed his orals and got a Ford Foundation grant. Alice and I agreed that neither of us could tolerate that Ph.D. grind.
Today was the kind of day that makes living truly worthwhile.
Saturday, April 20, 1974
This afternoon I took a nap; well, sort of. I wasn’t really asleep, but my mind and body were turned off and there was a pleasant buzzing sound, and it was all very peaceful and relaxing.
I awoke to look at the dust being scattered about the room; I could see it because of the way the light shined through the window. It’s really remarkable how the dust is ever-present in the air, always tracking about – and we usually don’t ever consider its existence.
There are some things in people’s minds like that: something that is always there but we’re not aware of it until the light strikes it at a certain angle. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that aspect of myself which is homosexual.
Last night I was with Ronna. We had decided that we wouldn’t go anywhere special, a tacit agreement that we would concentrate on making love. We had the usual upsets, this time over her mother asking her to get her some Carvel. In the car, I balked at this, feeling sick and tired of doing everybody favors.
We drove around for a while and she cried but wouldn’t let me know why. It was torture for me because I was trying to reach out to her, trying to make contact, and she put up a wall between us, until finally, somewhere along Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens, she opened up.
Of course then we sorted things out quickly and could even laugh about them: we went back to Brooklyn, bringing ice cream to her house. We walked the dog and settled things so we could be alone in her bedroom.
And we did make love for hours. In fact, I kept losing my erection and she had trouble having an orgasm even when I got it back, so it was a bit frustrating. Perhaps we had just been too anxious about it, but there’s the possibility that I’m losing my desire for Ronna.
I am not certain that I will ever feel about the female body the way I do about the male. Despite being slightly overweight, Ronna is built very well, but somehow I can’t give myself completely to her.
“You never have to say you love me,” Ronna told me. So maybe I shouldn’t try to force myself to feel anything; I don’t know. But as I walk around in the warmer weather, I feel more excitement at seeing a man’s body and I regard the women with a vaguer sense of brotherly affection.
I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t finally try a homosexual experience just to test things out. Maybe it would be more satisfying than being with a woman.
On the other hand, it could be a way of avoiding something: if things aren’t going well with a girl, well then, maybe I just rationalize I’m not cut out for relationships with females – that sort of thing.
Perhaps I’m just getting tired of Ronna after so many months. That’s not such a disgraceful thing to feel. (But then why is it I’d feel less guilty about hating her passionately than I would about just liking her?)
Anyway, I’ll discuss it with Mrs. Ehrlich next week; she canceled our session for this Tuesday.
Today I bought a bouquet of flowers, then went to the beach to see Grandma Sylvia. Grandpa Nat opened the door, and I found Grandma Sylvia sitting at the kitchen table, eating lunch, and I hugged her.
It was six months since I last saw her, and I was surprised at how well she looked, despite her poor health. Her hair was blonde and nicely kept, and although as usual she complains about life being “nothing but trouble,” she still has her sardonic sense of humor.
She really got a kick out of her sister-in-law Molly, who called to say that she’d bought a gown for Jonathan’s bar mitzvah and couldn’t understand why she still hadn’t gotten her invitation.
Grandma Sylvia doesn’t seem sorry to be home, as it’s getting too hot in Florida; she just wishes she could get around better. Grandpa Nat was falling asleep – he’d gone into work early this morning – and Grandma Sylvia had chores to do, so I didn’t stay that long.