A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, April 21, 1974
A day can make all the difference in the world. I’m still cognizant of the fears and anxieties I had yesterday, but I know that my relationship with Ronna is still a good one for both of us.
We spent a marvelous day together. I called her this morning (she had babysat for the Fishmans last night) and asked if she wanted to spend a day in the Botanic Gardens. She agreed, and I picked her up at 1 PM.
It was in the 70°s, so I wore shorts for the first time; earlier, I sat outside with the reflector and got somewhat sunburned.
Ronna looked so pretty, wearing a gauze top that her cousin got her for her birthday. We dropped her sister off at the Museum and went to the Botanic Gardens together.
It was so beautiful – sunny and warm – and we walked along, watching the couples with babies, older homosexual men with young lovers, the many Japanese with their ever-present cameras. The magnolias were in bloom, and the forsythia too.
We talked over a few things and both decided that we need to keep reevaluating our relationship every so often; otherwise you just get into a habit of seeing one another.
Now I feel that I’m with a new Ronna; it’s almost like seeing a different girl. It’s not that she’s changed, but I keep seeing her in a different light, like the way her hair looked red today when the sun hit it at a certain angle.
We walked along and talked; the Gardens are like an oasis of peace in a harsh, rude city. At 2:30 PM we went to the Auditorium to see a slide talk by President Kneller on “Brooklyn College, Past and Future.”
Based on a presentation he made for the State Department for two developing African nations, Kneller’s talk, as corny as it was, was interesting and made you feel something toward the school. I’ll be coming back to BC in the fall, and it’s like coming home – to a community of 40,000 people.
After the lecture ended and the lights went back on, I turned around and spotted Dean Ethyle Wolfe, who returned my wave.
Ronna and I went to the hill above the Museum parking lot and ate the sandwiches and fruit we brought, and then went through the Garden for the Blind and the Elizabethean herb garden – which, no matter how many times I’ve been to it, still seems special, like LaGuardia lobby or the beach in Rockaway.
I guess for those special places I store memory upon memory, and each new trip gives me something new.
We went back to my house, first sitting in the backyard, talking about things. Ronna said we’ve cried so much to each other, but I felt that was natural.
She said she felt good if I cry because I have to – Ivan always did – but I still find crying difficult. I can’t let myself cry in front of any of my friends, especially males – although Brian did catch me crying in the bathroom the night they stole the ballots in the student election.
Ronna and I went to my room and made love. This time it was terrific for both of us. I found her irresistible: her soft breasts, her hair tied back, her warm belly. I showed off my new biceps and we tickled and laughed and lay in my bed, just talking and nuzzling.
(I remember Debbie once told me that the first time she slept with her boyfriend, after they had intercourse, he placed his hands behind his head on the pillow and said, “Now comes the important part: we talk.”)
Ronna said she doesn’t believe anything anyone tells her while they’re on top of her, and I guess I do say “I love you” more when I’m breathing heavily. But it’s all so fine, to be together, man and woman, hugging, joking, kissing, making contact.
It’s been seventeen months that we’ve been going out, but today I felt that I was beginning to fall in love again – with the same girl.
After managing to dress ourselves through sheer willpower, we went out to eat at the Foursome, where we had a delicious meal. The cool night air was so pleasant and the hug Ronna gave me when I dropped her off still lingers.
With spring here and summer on the way, who can think of things like school and theses and comprehensive exams?
Thursday, April 25, 1974
Prof. Fuchs’ class late yesterday wasn’t that bad, but I was still glad to have it end. A crisp, chilly breeze was blowing in from the harbor as I walked from school to the St. George municipal parking lot.
Whatever happens with the other M.A. requirements, in a month I’ll be through with all my courses at Richmond. Maybe I’ll miss going to Staten Island three or four days a week, but I’m not certain I will.
I’m ready to start a new phase of my life now – not that I’ll ever regret this year at Richmond College, which was a refreshing transition period between adolescence and adulthood, although the lines are not very well-defined.
Now I’m looking for something that has to come out of myself: a novel, a home of my own, an “honest” job, and more than that, an honest way of life. No one realizes more than I do how much I have to do before I can get any of those things, especially the last.
In just a few days it will be May. I know it’s the biggest cliché on record, but the days are flying by so quickly. Soon the summer will be here and I’ll be facing the reality of finding, first a job, and then an apartment.
There are a lot of things about the future that frighten me, but I know I can’t escape into the past. It’s like LaGuardia Hall, where today I spent time hanging out.
Though I still have plenty of friends there and am up on all the latest news, it isn’t the same anymore – not that I ever expected it could be. (Yet I wonder if, deep down, didn’t I believe that LaGuardia would always be my refuge?)
Josh called me this morning and asked me to think up something interesting for us to do today, but I’m afraid my brain fails me at 9 AM, so we put it off for another day; I like Josh’s direct, no-nonsense manner, though.
I went to BC later this morning and found people playing basketball with the wastepaper basket in the Student Government office.
I asked Mike if maybe he wouldn’t like to play hooky from the University Student Senate meeting on Sunday, and he thought that was an excellent idea. And Cindy said it would make a nicer Sunday for her; maybe they could go to Rockaway if it’s nice.
They gave me some bubblegum from this old-fashioned machine they got in Pennsylvania, and I went out into the lobby, where I came across Avis, who looked tired. She said that last night she and Jacob had gone to see the ballet, with Nureyev, and they got home very late.
Marty came by and we shook hands; he’s finishing up his thesis and this summer he and Ruth will be moving to Syracuse, where he’ll spend the next three years in the Ph.D. program. Ruth hopes to get another teaching job up there, but they’ll be living in graduate student housing, which I guess they’ll like.
I was walking toward the library when I heard a voice calling “Grayson!” I turned around and it was Caplan, eating her lunch on a bench. Ronna was nervous about her presentation in American Studies, so I tried to keep her mind on other things.
Ronna told me that Kevin’s girlfriend is living at home with him and his parents, and they’re planning to go into the married students’ dorm although they’re not getting married.
It looks as though things worked out fine for Kevin after all; it seems as if he came out of Felicia’s leaving him for his best friend better than she did.
Ronna and I somehow got accosted by Karin, who plunked herself in between us on the bench and then escorted us to LaGuardia, holding hands with both of us on either side of her. Very strange girl.
I saw Mason and Libby, who’ve been fine. Visiting Jerry and Shelli in Boston, they had a good time “except for the cockroaches.” I also came across Debbie, who’s one person I’m really sorry I don’t keep more in contact with.
She’s fine and so is her family. Debbie’s still waiting to get into the nursing program at Downstate. She had to rush off to her next class, and it was time for Ronna to go to American Studies, too; I wished her luck.
I sat on the grass, watching Morty and Lewis (who’s now president of the Independent Democratic Club) have a catch, until Susan came by, asking if I wanted to join her for lunch while she was on a break from working at summer session registration.
We went to Campus Corner, where Susan told me she’s going out of town to grad school, either to Buffalo or Rutgers. Her mother has decided to move to Tudor City in midtown Manhattan.
After lunch, I worked in the library, then came home to watch soap operas and lift weights.
In the late afternoon, Ronna walked over from Kings Plaza. She seemed glad to see me again, and it was pretty good to get to hug her twice on a weekday. Her presentation in class went well, no thanks to Sid, Costas and Melvin, who were too wrecked to help her out with supportive comments or questions.
After we went to Kings Highway to pick up something for her mother, I took Ronna home because she had to do a paper and I want to get some more reading for my comprehensive exam done tonight. Maybe I’ll attempt (shudder) Absalom and Achitophel.
Sunday, April 28, 1974
This is one of those times when just being alive is a sheer joy. We’re reading Bellow’s Seize the Day in Fuchs’ class (I’ve read it before, of course) and I find myself living by the carpe diem philosophy, taking life as it comes, with all its adventures.
Last night was so great. I picked up Ronna at 9 PM and then we went to fetch Avis. Alan Karpoff had been his usual indecisive self and for the fourth time, he changed his mind and decided to do a term paper instead of going to the party. Avis was disgusted with him and asked us to give her a lift.
So it was like a year ago, when the three of us went to Scott’s graduation party. We got to Suzanne’s house in Park Slope following Avis’s directions; on the way, she told Ronna and me the story of Suzanne.
Suzanne was married to a doctor and had two kids – the kids I played with the day Teresa and Costas were having a breakup heart-to-heart in LaGuardia – and Teresa met her in a comp lit course taught by David.
Suzanne had an affair with the professor, and Teresa often babysat for her and made excuses when the husband called. Eventually they were divorced and now he takes the kids all weekend, when she stays at David’s apartment.
During the week, Suzanne runs a day care center at her place in Park Slope but Teresa often makes use of it (she had rendezvous there with Scott, Costas, and Roger, among others).
When we rang the bell, Teresa opened the door. At her side was Roger, still the well-groomed gay guy, who was trying on one of the professor’s corduroy jackets.
Teresa showed us around the apartment, a beautiful and roomy place, and the five of us went to the living room for Sant’gria and cheese and crackers, all very elegant.
Spring soon arrived with Sean’s replacement, a young man named Geoffrey with a G, who goes to Kingsborough; Spring got into Barnard for next year. (Sean had called Teresa and made some excuse not to come; “he’s such a baby,” she said.)
Soon, others came: Teresa’s friend Sylvia, who I met at her house, and her boyfriend Hank; another rather straight couple; and most welcome of all, Nancy, who brought along Joey.
After so many months, it was great to see Joey; I’d forgotten how funny he is. He kept Ronna and me in stitches, doing one joke after another, like when he suggested I do mythesis on “The Ethos of Water in Henny Youngman.”
Joey took a leave of absence from BC (he says if I teach there next term, he’ll finally take freshman English) and is working for the city Finance Administration “doing nothing.”
Roger was in very good form, too, with his bitchy camp humor; surprisingly, he and Ronna got along really well and traded quips.
Spring and Geoffrey (who didn’t talk much anyway) retired to one of the bedrooms for the remainder of the evening; I thought it was a lapse of taste, but to each his own.
Avis, of course, was the first to suggest we smoke grass and the first person to get stoned (most people abstained). It was such a nice scene, sitting in that Park Slope-furnished living room talking with friends about old times and other people.
Nancy surprised Teresa and me with news of an old acquaintance: she got a card announcing Benny’s marriage. Nancy, Teresa and Roger were talking about skiing, and at one point Roger said, “Richard, you sexy little devil, pass the pretzels,” and it made me feel good.
Despite the fact that Roger’s a flaming queen, he’s really so good and kind at heart. In the kitchen, as we prepared Teresa’s birthday cake, he told me that Skip is very into “sick sadomasochistic stuff – the leather set” and that he turned down Skip’s offer that they go to bed together.
We took apart some people during the course of the evening – notably Scott and Costas (it was Teresa’s birthday, after all) – and looked at pictures of David, Suzanne and their respective kids on vacation.
I blew out the candles on the cake because everyone was afraid they’d get mono if Teresa did it. I felt bad being unable to kiss Teresa happy birthday and good night and I was sad to leave Joey, Nancy and Roger because I hardly ever see them.
After we dropped off Avis at her building, Ronna said she had a good time although she hadn’t expected to and was in fact thinking of punking out on the party beforehand.
I hugged her so much last night, and we had a great time today, too. When I got to Ronna’s house at noon, the dog was walking Sue out front.
Gary had called me, saying he was on National Guard duty at Fort Tilden, and as Ronna and I had planned to go out to Rockaway anyway, we decided to look for Gary first.
The fort was having an open house, and Ronna and I were treated to such wonderful sights and sounds as helicopters landing, parachutes and captured Viet Cong rifles on display, and “Captain Cohen’s Flying Tigers,” whatever they were.
We found Gary and two other soldiers guarding a gate, though in actuality they were playing a makeshift game of game of stickball with stones and a piece of wood.
The Reserves are so funny. A convoy of them drove through the gate and told Gary they wanted to meet “the two cute girls in the car.”
Gary set them straight, so they stopped looking at me but seemed to enjoy looking at Ronna in her danskin. (I kidded her about getting all the attention from “sex-starved soldiers.”)
They offered us a joint, but we declined, and just stood there talking to Gary, who looked so funny in his uniform and short-hair wig, until some jeeps and tanks came to take him back to the Armory in Bed-Stuy.
Driving along the Boulevard, Ronna and I were stunned to hear that John Mitchell and Maurice Stans were acquitted; that was a surprising verdict for this Watergate mess.
We stopped at Mikey’s house to join him and his mother on the porch. I was so glad to learn that Mikey’s grandmother is better; a recent cataract operation at Peninsula Hospital, like the one Grandpa Herb had there, should help her a lot.
Mikey and I agreed that we were glad we skipped today’s Senate meeting on such a beautiful day.
I questioned him as to why Peter and Mike got on the ballot in the coming Student Government elections as a Presidential/V.P. ticket; Mikey says Peter, who is graduating, will resign if they win, and then Mike will be SG president again. This is a way they think they can stop Ron from winning.
Ronna and I left for Woodmere, where I took her to eat at Kosher King. Over burgers, she said it was so nice to see Mikey outside of LaGuardia in a homey setting with his mother.
Back at Ronna’s house in Canarsie, we went into her mother’s bedroom and petted a lot; neither of us felt like going to orgasm because it felt so fine just to fool around.
We’ve achieved a pretty good understanding about our relationship, but I find that instead of becoming just friends, we’re getting more deeply involved. Although we spent so much time together this weekend, it didn’t seem to surfeit either of us.
We joked about last night, using lines like Roger’s “delicate Muenster cheese,” but even more, we talked openly and honestly. I told her if she ever wanted to visit Ivan, we could; neither Ivan nor Shelli are delicate subjects anymore.
I left her place feeling loving and loved.
Tuesday, April 30, 1974
Another warm, sunny day. After returning from Mrs. Ehrlich’s, I was sitting out back listening to the radio. Everyone seems to be talking about the Nixon tapes.
The President made his “final statement” on Watergate last night on TV, announcing that he would furnish the House Judiciary Committee with edited transcripts instead of the tapes they’d subpoenaed, and he’d also make the transcripts public. No one knows what will happen next in the impeachment investigation.
My own life is more predictable. It was good to again see Mrs. Ehrlich, who looked tanned and relaxed. I told her I should be feeling guilty because I’ve been enjoying myself lately, and she laughed.
Next week is my comprehensive exam, but I started studying so far in advance that I can now take it pretty leisurely. I’ve put off the thesis for a while, as it wasn’t getting anywhere, and I think it is better not to force it.
I do have to see Prof. Ebel about it, and I still have a pretty fair amount of classwork to do, but these things will get done.
This morning Elaine Taibi called me and asked if I couldn’t manage to get ads for the Alumni Journal, which will be in the form of a playbill for a November concert; she said I’d be in charge and would mean three weeks of hard work.
My first impulse was to say no, but I told Elaine I would think about it. This is a challenge that might be worthwhile, giving me some experience as a fundraiser, and in effect, a salesman. So perhaps I will say yes.
I told Mrs. Ehrlich about my great weekend and we decided that it was probably because I decided to let myself feel the terror on Friday night instead of harboring it as a vague, restless depression.
I felt proud of myself for working out the feelings, and I told Mrs. Ehrlich how I talked with Ronna last Tuesday night about her own therapy group. Mrs. Ehrlich felt that I wasn’t “playing shrink” but just being a good friend, and that Ronna apparently felt the same way.
I told Mrs. Ehrlich that I remembered another part of my dream about going down into the subway, which was filled with water: Jonathan Baumbach saw me go down there. Perhaps that symbolized my hope or wish that the novel I will write under his tutelage will explore the deeper reaches of unconscious feelings.
I discussed another disturbing dream, one in which Alice made sexual advances toward me; I woke up from it feeling terribly embarrassed. But I see now that Alice may have been a symbol for another, even more embarrassing person: Mrs. Ehrlich herself.
In real life, I rarely have been the object of a girl’s advances. With Ronna, and years ago, with Shelli, I was the one to make the first moves. But if I do have sexual feelings toward Mrs. Ehrlich (and probably toward Alice, too), she said it might be best if we discuss them.
That will be very uncomfortable for me, but long ago I came to the intellectual conclusion that what makes me uncomfortable is usually important to me in some way – although I haven’t yet fully accepted that idea emotionally.
A few hours after the session, for some reason, an old memory hit me: Years ago, when I was quite little, I was riding in a car with Dad and Grandma Ethel, and we passed a store they said was “mobbed.” I looked at a store that was closed, the windows covered with something like Glasswax or Bon Ami, so that nobody could look in.
For years afterwards, even after high school, I still thought that meant a store was “mobbed.” I’m not sure why I think of that now, but my instinct tells me it’s related to what I am feeling. Maybe that it takes an awful long time to unlearn things that one was taught as a child – or thought that they were taught.