A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, May 1, 1974
11 PM. A little while ago, I got off the phone after going through an interview Ronna did with me, one of those survey-research things her mother does for work. It was for some psychology study about lifestyles.
It’s kind of hard to put your whole emotional life into a neat question and answer like: “Did you have a – very happy, somewhat happy, somewhat unhappy, very unhappy – childhood?”
I wonder if it will do the researchers any good. I guess my responses are coded and go into some kind of computer and will emerge several years from now in some cockamamie study.
I told Ronna I was “very happy” but “not satisfied.” I think that gives a good picture of where I’m at now.
I’m getting a little more concerned about the comprehensive exam next Friday. During the break in our class last night, I asked Prof. Bogen if she could remember any questions that she made up for some student’s comprehensive exam, and the questions she told me were rather difficult.
So last night I had an anxiety dream about being late for the test, and I actually still don’t know what time it’s scheduled for. Everything at Richmond College seems to be done so carelessly.
Today I handed in my mail registration for the summer, signing up for thesis research. I still haven’t talked to Prof. Ebel, and I should have; I don’t know if he’ll be coming back in the fall or if he’ll be around this summer.
Around school, I saw posters, in Andrea’s unmistakable hand, announcing that the job of secretary to the Student Council was open as of July 1. I went into the Student Government office and inquired about it, and Andrea said she was going to Fashion Institute of Technology full-time next year.
We bullshitted for a while; for some reason I told her about how Julia wanted to jump off the roof at FIT. I also told Andrea about the MFA program at Brooklyn, and we really seemed to be getting on well.
In the elevator, I chatted with Edd Merritt and then met Freema and Paul Nelson in the cafeteria. It’s ironic that I’m only beginning to feel a part of Richmond just as I’m about to leave.
I had thought of applying for Andrea’s job. The pay is all right, but I’m kind of embarrassed to apply because my résumé doesn’t list any previous jobs. I’ll think about it.
Prof. Fuchs was as boring as ever, and I left his class with a dull headache. I’ve got a lot of work to do to prepare for my exam, although really one hour a day should do it; I’m incapable of going into it any further than that.
When I spoke to Gary, he said he’s been sick since Sunday, unable to attend classes, but Columbia’s term ended this week anyway. He has fever but no other symptoms, and I’m willing to bet that his problem is psychosomatic although I couldn’t suggest that to him.
Actually, I fear that Gary is on the edge of something a lot of people experience (I’m lucky in a way that I went through it at 15, younger than most): when your emotional hangups start getting to you physically to the point where you can’t function.
I don’t think about it anymore, but even on such a pedestrian day as today, I did things I could dream of doing six years ago: sitting through a class without nausea, eating well without getting sick, driving a car – over the Verrazano Bridge yet (at one time, I panicked at the thought of going over the bridge as a passenger).
I’ve been playing with a story in my head for a while. It’s fun to do that, but I really think this story will get on paper one day. Called “The Peacock Room,” a central place in it will be Whistler’s room that Ronna and I saw at the Freer Gallery.
It takes place in Washington and is roughly the story of an affair between a bisexual movie theater manager (the character is based on Brian) and a married, although separated-by-distance, lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission (the character is modeled after Vicky but with Casey’s professional interests and career). It might be a worthwhile story.
Saturday, May 4, 1974
Last night, when I came down to supper, Mom told me: “I hope you left the bathroom clean. That’s all I care about.”
Her intent was to assure me that she didn’t want to nag me about anything else; however, I felt that her choice of words meant something in addition: that she didn’t really care about me as a person just as long as I kept things neat.
Dinner got pretty hairy as I tried to explain, therapy-style, how I felt, but I couldn’t get through to Mom, who wouldn’t listen and claimed I was making her ill, or to Dad, who was trying to be an impartial moderator.
I ended up so frustrated that I ran to the bathroom, where I ran the faucet and cried for a solid five minutes. After that, I felt wonderful and went to pick up Ronna.
There were no movies or plays that we wanted to see last night, so we decided to just ride around Long Island (the gas situation has eased to the point where they’ve abandoned alternate day sales).
We had a good time. I got lost on purpose and we went through a lot of towns on the South Shore; it was fun seeing new sights, however mundane, for the first time. Nothing serious was discussed, our conversation consisting mostly of jokes and whimsy.
Finally I found Long Beach Road and took the Atlantic Beach Bridge back into Rockaway, where we stopped at McDonald’s for some of their convenient plastic food and drink.
Then Ronna and I returned to my bedroom, where we looked at some books, watched TV, and then made love. It was hard for both of us to have orgasms, but after a lot of pleasurable effort, we came almost simultaneously, after which Ronna and I lay together in a small pool of sweat.
She told me that for a moment during orgasm she felt that we were fusing into one person; I’ve never had that feeling, really. We talked quietly, having a half-hour conversation about ethics in my car in front of her house at 2 AM.
I woke up today to find that Marc is sick in bed with a very bad cold; he told me that Alice had called earlier. I called her and then went over to her house after breakfast.
Alice was working on Henrietta and gave me some copies. She didn’t see the Village Voice article about it until last night, after two people wrote her for subscriptions to Henrietta.
She showed me some of the letters responding to her Times article and said that at Fordham she’s being treated like a celebrity because they liked the publicity for the college when the biographical note identified her as a grad student there.
Although Alice was buoyed by the success, she still is trucking on, doing term papers, teaching, and putting out Henrietta, which is a pretty big job, but I guess Alice gets satisfaction from it.
Alice and I had a very long talk in her red-and-white bedroom. She told me she’s slept with nine guys (mostly one-night stands), but her mother appears to believe in Alice’s purity. (When she stays over at Andreas’, she tells her mother she’s sleeping over at Renee’s.)
Alice went to a ball at the Brooklyn Museum, covering it forFlatbush Life. She bought a $60 gown at A&S and returned it the next day, never taking off the tag. But she said the gala was a bore except for a crazy Czechoslovakian man, who kept introducing Alice to everyone as “my wife, Lady Vladichek” and who proposed marriage at the end of the evening, telling her “it could be fun.”
Later today, I went to OTB to place bets for all the family on the Kentucky Derby. Naturally, Jonathan won: his horse paid off $18.60 on his $2 bet.
Sunday, May 5, 1974
10 PM on a Sunday evening, with a new week about to begin. In a month I will have passed my 23rd birthday, the term will be over, and I can begin on my twin goals of a job and an apartment.
At the moment I’m feeling somewhat confident although I’m apprehensive about the comprehensive exam on Friday; I had my first anxiety dream about it last night.
Still, there are some signs of progress on the job front. Ronna and I were lying in the basement, reading the Times want ads together, and she suggested that I get a job as an interviewer with her mother’s firm; her mother could put in a good word for me. I might enjoy that kind of work.
And earlier in the day, when Ronna and I were at a flea market, I bought four salad bowls on sale for ten cents each: the first purchase I made for my future apartment. I know these things are not exactly firm moves, but tentative steps are better than nothing.
I’m even feeling a lot more secure in my sexuality; I’ve gotten to the point where I’m no longer afraid of my homosexual tendencies. I think I could experiment with a homosexualrelationship without fearing that it would label me as gay: I know what I am and I still like girls’ bodies and heterosexual sex.
I wonder if I sound pompous in these pages, like some self-centered, self-righteous neurotic who can’t see his faults – for there are many traits in me that I do not like. I can be as petty, mean and destructive as anybody.
Yesterday Jonny got a ten-speed racing bike, which I rode around the block. I hope to use it more this summer.
This morning I woke up early, and it was nice to see the street at 8 AM: it was a clear day, but cool. I picked up Ronna sometime after noon and we drove out, via the Southern State Parkway, to the flea market where her uncle has a booth.
We found her uncle and his mother outside at an end table, selling their cosmetics; her aunt was inside by another stand in a converted airplane hangar.
Ronna and I walked around, and besides the salad bowls, I picked up a New Riders of the Purple Sage T-shirt, a pair of socks and a terrarium inside a soda bottle – the last a Mother’s Day present for Mom. Ronna bought a Chicago T-shirt and some earrings for her sister.
After about an hour of browsing, we said goodbye to her aunt, her uncle and his mother, and we drove to Lawrence, where we had a late lunch at Epstein’s Delicatessen.
Ronna has to write her farewell column for Kingsman tonight. She’s been thinking about it for two years, but now she’s at a loss for words.
Ronna said she’ll mention me, but not in some mushy way and probably she won’t even use my name. I’d sort of like to see some loving reference, but it would also embarrass me greatly.
We returned to my house, where we looked at the paper, watched TV and made out; it was very pleasant but not earth-moving.
I asked her if she ever wanted to visit Ivan, and she said she wasn’t sure. She’s positive she’s past the stage of where she was on her birthday two years ago. Then, Ivan called her up, invited her over, and they ended up necking on his waterbed and finally Ronna started crying.
When he asks Ronna to visit, Ivan always invites me along too; either he’s genuinely friendly toward us both or he wants my presence to assure that there will be no heavy “wasn’t-it-great-when-we-were-going-out” scene – which is the same thing, I guess.
But Ronna said she feels she’d more comfortable seeing Ivan without me, although I doubt that she’ll actually visit him at all.
I had to see Shelli and Jerry together for two years after we broke up, and at the beginning it was especially difficult. But since their breakup, Ronna’s never had to see Ivan with Vicky.
Anyway, it’s not worth giving any more thought to; we’ll just see what develops. After Ronna and I watched the cloyingly sentimental Apple’s Way, I drove her home.
I wish this week were over and I could just forget about the comprehensive exam.
Wednesday, May 8, 1974
By 8 PM this evening, I found myself in danger of becoming totally obsessed with the books and criticism I’ve been reading in preparation for the exam.
From the time I got home after class last night, I’ve done nothing but reading, except for eight hours’ sleep and a haircut at noon today. I started making relationships between the concept of Wyrd in Beowulf to Mark Twain’s idea of luck in Huck Finn, and comparing Milton’s diction to that of Virginia Woolf.
I think an excess of literature can lead to insanity. I’ll never forget Leon’s warning that it makes for an unsatisfying, second-hand life.
So, as numbed as I was by 8 PM, I made my way to BC and felt at home right away, finding Hilary and Holly outside. We joked about inconsequential things, but it was just so good to be relating to people, not fictional characters.
In the Student Government office, I found Joy, Cindy, Mandy, Peter and Mike, who were going over the results of the SG election, announced just an hour before: Ron, Eddie and the “Mugwumps” won overwhelmingly.
The group was pretty somber about it all: Ron made a victory speech saying that he would put an axe through President Kneller’s door or something equally stupid. They were having a victory party in SUBO; Kathy said it wasn’t much and that she left after a tipsy Mara spilled wine on her.
The Student Government office won’t be the same next year, but by now I’ve seen five administrations come and go, and somehow there’s continuity in LaGuardia – not that Iintend much hanging out next year. But LaGuardia is where the action is at Brooklyn College, and as an MFA student, I intend to be an active member of the college community.
Downstairs in the copy office, Robert showed me the Sam Castan Award that he got at today’s English majors’ tea; Costas was runner-up. Though Robert is often obnoxious, he did do more for campus journalism than Costas, who let Sean do most of the work this year.
Upstairs, Debbie asked why I wasn’t home studying – Ronna had told her about the exam – and told me that Ronna had gone to the Pub for dinner. As I walked there, I smiled, remembering that Ronna used to not go to the Pub, telling me she was not “the Pub type,” but lately she’d been talking about wanting to eat there before graduation.
I found her at a table with Rose and several others; Ronna looked so womanly. Just seeing Ronna made me feel at ease, forgetting about the exam, and we all chatted and joked about inconsequential things.
Elise got slightly drunk on Sant’gria, so we all walked her back to LaGuardia. On the way, Rose made a nasty crack about Eddie, and Kathy said, “You’re being bitter,” and Rose said, “You bet I am.”
Ronna went to type up a review of a play she and Rose had seen last night, so I chatted with others in LaGuardia. Robert will probably be going to law school at Indiana University; Peter got into NYU. Joy gave me bubblegum and I watched Alex sleep and spoke with Ellen.
I kissed Ronna good night and left at 9:30 PM, taking Rose and Morty with me. After dropping Rose off at her house, Morty and I stopped for Carvel and a long talk in my car.
It’s surprising how well Morty and I get along; he’s much younger than I am and he wears a yarmulke. (Ronna’s sister told me Morty said he wears one “because he’s proud of being Jewish.”) But somehow I can confide in him about important things.
We talked about sex – he’s just getting over his breakup with Tal, his first girlfriend – and the difficulty of moving out of our parents’ house. (“It’s a frightening thing,” Morty said, in what to me is the understatement of the year.)
Morty said I should drop by anytime; as he lives only a block away, I really should. I’m glad I went to school tonight, because otherwise I’d still be a nervous literary wreck.
Friday, May 10, 1974
It’s Friday evening and the comprehensive exam is over. It’s a relief, but there’s still some work to be done before this term is over. Yet I feel that summer is on its way.
Tired tonight, I decided not to go out; Ronna and I are supposed to go the John Denver concert tomorrow anyway. Last night I did the best thing: I went out for a drive and then came home to read a fiction and poetry magazine that I bought.
I got to bed early, slept well, and woke up this morning to a raging rainstorm. Although it was difficult driving to Staten Island, I made it to school by 9:30 AM, presenting myself at the Humanities office, where Mrs. Atkinson was waiting for me.
She put me in the office of a Philosophy professor and left me sitting behind his desk with the test in an envelope and a lot of paper.
When I opened the envelope and scanned down the list of nine questions, I felt relieved: none of them threw me completely for a loss, and I only had to answer six questions.
But writing six essays is easier said than done, and while I started off well, I became tired and befogged in the middle, although I think I did well with the final essay.
I took nearly the whole four hours allotted to write about who is the hero of Paradise Lost; Emma Bovary and Stephen Dedalus as romantics; the disintegration of civilization as seen in “The Second Coming” and “The Waste Land”; and more.
Prof. Fuchs popped in to see how I was doing; he told me grinningly that he had written the first four questions – which is odd, since I didn’t nominate him to Cooley.
Prof. Fuchs scares me, as I think there’s something about him that’s off-the-wall. I even began to worry that he might fail me – after all, my essays were probably not that good – but then I said, what the hell, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
With a numbed sense of pleasure, I handed in the test to Mrs. Atkinson and drove back home over the bridge. It had stopped raining but the air was heavy and the sky cloudy.
I went to Brooklyn College, to LaGuardia, to pick up the last issue of Kingsman for the term; it had just arrived, as it was very big, and they’d been at the printers until noon.
In the Student Government office, I was still in a state of fuzziness, but I joined in the general repartee, had a piece of birthday cake for both Joy (who turned 18) and Danny, the Spigot editor.
For the first time in a long time, I saw Mara, and we talked as if nothing had ever happened with Phyllis and the law school acceptances.
But I’m beginning to realize that Mara is not a very sociable person; she ignores anyone she wants to, from Avis and Ronna to her old boyfriends like Davey and Alan Karpoff, to her first cousin, Buddy.
When I saw Ronna, Susan and Felicia, I thanked them all for mentions in their farewell columns, but I was exhausted and hungry and needed to go home.
After I got myself together again, I called Ronna and we talked about what we’ve been doing these past few days. She wrote of me in her column: “Richie, my sustenance on Wednesdays (and many other days). ‘In time of daffodils’ . . . you know.”
And she put in an ad: “Bucky, if you’re a master, does that make me a mistress? I’ll play Sally to your Linus anytime. – Raunch”
Reading over the farewell columns – Robert’s, Phyllis’s, Timmy’s, Melvin’s, Costas’s – I got as sentimental as I always do. But God, most of the BC students must get disgusted with all the in jokes. Susan thanked me and Spencer for putting up with her so patiently (“You both did better than your predecessors”) and argued about the merits of Point Counter Point.
Felicia wrote in her column: “Richie, anti-intellectualism is an art.”