A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, June 5, 1974
This evening I’m going to the Student Government party in SUBO. I sure wish Ronna could be there, but she had previously paid to go to the House Plan Association dinner; I just spoke to Bonnie next door, and she’s going there, too.
In a way, I’m a male chauvinist pig: I’d like Ronna to be at the SG party because it would give me security and prestige. Yesterday Mikey told me that Mike had invited all the old Mugwumps – Ruth and Marty, Casey and Sharon, Bob and Estelle – and I’m unliberated enough to want them to know that I’m capable of having a girlfriend.
Last evening Alice called me to wish me a happy birthday. She and Mark tried to reach me earlier in the day, when they were in the Courier-Life newspaper office, but I wasn’t home. Alice said she’ll give me my presents later in the week.
We reminisced about events that took place so many years ago: childhood humiliations like Miss Gura telling our second grade class that a Canadian goose was four feet tall and making me stand up in front of the class and using me as a model; Alice being impeached as class president because she talked too much; and how the other girls in sixth grade made fun of Alice because she didn’t have a training bra.
And I laughed when Alice told me that Lindy Aronowitz, who at one time had a crush on me, told Alice in fourth grade that Alice could have me for herself because by then Lindy preferred my best friend Keith.
I was hurrying over to Ronna’s last evening when Dad stopped me and showed me that he was kidding earlier in the evening when he got me to agree to using their leftover anniversary cake as my birthday cake.
He had really gone to Carvel and got me my very own birthday cake. I was happy about that and enjoyed blowing out the candles and hearing my parents and brothers sing “Happy Birthday.” I was a bit too enthusiastic, though, and blew all the paper cups off the table, too.
I arrived at Ronna’s, bringing a very big piece of cake, which was eaten by Ronna, her mother and Billy. Ronna gave me cards from her sister and cousin and then gave me her gifts, wrapped with love and care.
She got me a mirror (“A perfect gift for a narcissist like me,” I said), a colorful mug for my tea-drinking, a still-life print, and a box filled with live parsley, which I’m going to try to make grow healthily: maybe I’ll even talk to them.
I felt very loved, and Ronna and I settled down in her room to a comfy evening of hugs and nuzzles. I don’t know where else I could find a friend like Ronna. After we walked the dog, I kissed her goodnight, thanking her for making the end of my birthday the best part of the day.
When I passed Georgetown, the bank sign said that it was 12:07 AM, so the day was over. It was perhaps the nicest birthday I’ve ever had: so many people remembered me.
Today was hot and sunny; I stayed outside, mostly. Josh came over to borrow my commencement gown and I spoke to Gary. I was going to call Avis, but Mikey mentioned that Alan Karpoff was leaving for Bolivia today, and I figured she went to see him off.
I called Ronna after I got back from the dentist. She was in a rush to get ready for the HPA dinner but was kind of upset about Susan, who has a new friend, Lola, who’s been the one to finally succeed in getting Susan out to do new things. Susan makes Ronna feel that she failed her.
And Ronna was annoyed at herself for dreaming about Ivan. In the dream he told her that he loved her better than Vicky.
But she was also excited because Fred Moreno of College Relations called her this afternoon to ask if she’d let herself be interviewed for CBS in a news story as a part of the first Open Admissions students graduating class at CUNY.
I told her she’d be wonderful on TV and that I loved her. Big day tomorrow.
Thursday, June 6, 1974
The events of last night and today have been so extraordinarily filled with people and activity, I have so much to write.
Avis called last night. She had finally finished her schoolwork, and had seen Alan off to Bolivia. He was excited because there was a coup d’état there yesterday and he hopes he can get in on the action.
Avis is leaving for Europe on the 18th although she is disappointed and hurt that Helmut hasn’t written again. She doesn’t know how she’ll find him, but she’s determined to go and is optimistically packing her winter jacket.
It was 7 PM when I arrived at the SUBO penthouse, where I was greeted fondly by Mike and Cindy. I told Ethyle Wolfe that I’d been elected to Phi Beta Kappa and mentioned that I was going into the MFA program.
Dean Wolfe told me they’ve been trying to start a publishing collective which, in addition to publishing trade books, would also publish five student novels a year “so you won’t have to write potboilers.”
I was ecstatic to hear that, so much so that I can almost visualize my long-talked-about novel about my experiences at Brooklyn College actually in print one day. But Bob Grossman, the college lawyer, said the publishing collective has not been given final approval yet.
Circulating, I said hi to Mikey and Larry and kissed Debbie. We sat down and she told me that after many frustrating off-and-on months, her relationship with her first boyfriend Jim finally petered out.
Debbie’s been named an alternate to the Downstate nursing program, and she’s got her fingers crossed that the waiting list will open up.
I had punch with Casey, Sharon and Robert, who’s preparing to spend a year in London writing his dissertation. Sharon is going to study English at George Washington when she and Casey move to D.C. for his job at the SEC. Right now they’re living in Rockaway, and he’s studying for the bar and she’s working at Kings Plaza.
Mason and Libby arrived together. Libby sublet an apartment in the building behind SUBO and will be going to school this summer. Libby is so huggable. The two of us decided to make a farewell party for Avis at her new apartment.
I spoke to the “youngsters” like Corinne and Sean, who’s summering in Jamaica, and who was trying to make Kathy all evening.
It was also gratifying to see Steve Katz, who was at the phone booth talking to Paula; he put me on the phone and I said hello to her. They’ll be together in North Carolina in the fall.
And Marty and Ruth were as friendly and unaffected as ever; now I’m an “old person” like them. Bobby arrived wearing a Spigot T-shirt and with a pretty girl; he’s managing a Long Island community newspaper and was awarded an assistantship in the Communications Department at Kent State.
Mara popped in for a minute. “Happy birthday,” she said as she hugged me; her card arrived today, and in it she wrote that she likes me and that we should do things together more. I think all my hostility toward her over the thing with Phyllis is gone and that we can again be good friends now.
I joked with Mandy and Pete, said hello to Deans Dunn and Tarr and Mr. Scacalossi, and had tea with Mrs. D. (Mike said Mrs. D can’t stand Ron and might quit, but I said she endured other student government presidents she didn’t like, such as Phil and Pablo.)
Everyone at the party was so friendly and tight, it was truly beautiful. After most of the guests had left, I sat at a table with Joel, reminiscing about old Student Assembly meetings and stuff. He’s starting his final year at Hofstra Law, but Joel isn’t sure he ever will practice law.
Finally, I said goodbye and good luck to Pete, who danced and drank beer, and to Costas, and to Sid, who’s getting handsome as opposed as to cute as he no longer looks like a kid, and to Joy, who’s really more quiet than snobbish. And I thanked Mike and Cindy for inviting me.
At home, I called Ronna to find out how the House Plan Association dinner went. Everything was fine, she said, except that Dr. Whipple got drunk and made a fool of himself, and Arnold Nadler, who’s been fired, cried. Otherwise, it was an all-right evening, Ronna said.
I told her it was really okay for us to go to things separately although it would have been nice to be together, too.
At 10 AM today I got to Brooklyn College. Like all commencement days, it was very hot and sunny. I passed Stacy, who gave me a warm kiss on the lips. “Merci for the graduation card, Grayson,” she said.
Then I ran into Josh, whom I helped to unstick the zipper of my old gown before he went to the lily pond to smoke a joint. I passed Carole and kissed her and saw Pete, Phyllis, Timmy and the others trying not to look silly in their caps and gowns.
Sitting in the Reserved section for Presidential Guests, I watched the procession, which took a very long time: 5,000 graduates, the faculty, and the marshals, who were led by Dean Glickman and who included some of the other deans and Mike.
There was the national anthem, a convocation by a rabbi, and a speech on impeachment by Liz Holtzman, who left immediately afterwards for a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
They awarded honorary degrees and Presidential medals, and then Kneller called upon the degree candidates to rise and conferred their B.A., B.S. or M.A. upon them.
Finally, just like last year, the President told the graduates to turn around and receive the applause of their parents, relatives and friends. It seemed beautiful and was more meaningful to me than my own commencement last year. Education is an amazing process.
As everyone filed out, I met Nathan Braksmajer and his parents; he finished his master’s thesis, on Saul Bellow. In front of LaGuardia, I saw Mike and his parents, Susan and her mother, Felicia and her parents and Spencer, and Ronna’s sister and mother.
When Ronna came over, I gave her a big hug and kiss and told her, “I’m proud of you, baby.” Then I walked Ronna over to College Relations, where Maddy was waiting to usher her into a room with a reporter for CBS.
At the Phi Beta Kappa tea, Stacy introduced me to Diane, who I already knew from when she was Pete’s girlfriend. Stacy said she’s working for Dean Birkenhead over the summer and hopes to have a full-time counseling position for the fall.
She spoke about “just ending a relationship”: still the same old Stacy, God love her, but I got the impression she’s more stable now. Leroy was crashing the tea, and Timmy, who’s decided to go to law school in Buffalo, came with Phyllis.
I congratulated Victor on all his academic awards and honors and wished him luck – “though you don’t need it” – at Harvard next year. Barney told me he’s engaged and is going to medical school at Mt. Sinai.
After Ethyle Wolfe lined us up, we were inducted, one by one, into Phi Beta Kappa. Ronna had come in late and was sitting in the audience not far from me; we exchanged amused glances during the featured speaker’s talk about excellence and honesty.
Following the formal ceremony, Prof. Starling congratulated me, and when I said goodbye to Prof. Fife, she changed my normal handshake into the “secret” Phi Beta Kappa handshake, explaining how it’s done.
Susan, her mother, Ronna and I walked to my car, and I drove them home, thanking Susan for the birthday gift she got me, a book of Truffaut scripts.
Ronna looked really pretty and proud: my girlfriend the college graduate.
And tonight, when she appeared on the Channel 2 Six O’Clock News, she looked stunningly beautiful. The segment, on the first Open Admissions graduates, initially showed her talking to her mother and sister by the benches in front of LaGuardia.
Then, in her cap and gown, she was interviewed, speaking eloquently on how the OpenAdmissions policy gave her the opportunity to go to college. Years ago I once saw footage of Hubert Humphrey jumping up to kiss the TV set when his wife was on being interviewed, and when I watched Ronna, I almost got up and kissed the TV screen, too.
The CBS reporter said that Brooklyn College seems better off for having had Ronna and the other Open Admissions kids there. After watching Ronna on TV, Mom told me, “You don’t know what you’ve got,” but I do know what an extraordinary person Ms. Caplan is.
The whole experience of the past few days – my birthday, last night’s party, commencement, Phi Beta Kappa – has been totally positive. It all adds up to a whole lot of love.
Sunday, June 9, 1974
11 PM. Things have settled down somewhat, but I still am finding life enormously interesting. I just watched a program by Barbara Walters on the sexual problems of men.
(Freudian-slippingly, I nearly stopped the pen after the “e” in “men.” Of course I have a lot of sexual hangups, but as things become freer – both in society and within myself – life will get better.)
At least that whole “macho” mystique is dying away, except in the mind of self-styled studs like Costas.
Last night I was very satisfied, and if Ronna didn’t have an orgasm, it happens often enough to satisfy her, she said; it’s not like being on a playing field. It’s a relief to have many people realize that a guy isn’t always ready to have sex any more than a woman is.
Today I could handle my impotence with Stacy with more honesty and openness than I did and I wouldn’t have to go through the trauma and embarrassment I felt after being with Stacy back in October ’72.
Speaking of openness, remember Hiram, Ronna’s mother’s erstwhile fiancé? It turns out that he had made up not only his son’s accident and his flight to London to see the boy, but also the son as well! He fabricated the whole story about having an ex-wife and children in England, his career as an Army major, his job, his entire life.
What a sickie! He called up Ronna’s mother recently and said now he could be honest, but she quickly hung up on him. Ronna, it seems, was right all along in her suspicions about the man, and her mother now admits that. So do I.
Alice came over this afternoon on her trusty bike, bringing me delicious belated birthday presents (an Indian flute and a German set of tiddlywinks, purchased at the Brooklyn Museum) as well as a hand-made birthday card from Mark, “to the best reporter I ever had, from the best editor you ever had.” Mark told me to call him, and I was trying his phone all evening but got no response.
Alice told me some horror stories about her school, like the one about the 6’4″ eighth-grader named Mario who’s stabbed eight people already, and John, who steals street cleaning vehicles and who calls Alice “Gorgeous.”
Alice said she spent a masochistic day yesterday. In the afternoon she biked with Curtis, who said he feels like Marlow in Heart of Darkness and who finds his brother Bob “morally perfect.” And then she spent last evening with Renee, who’s depressed because she doesn’t have an escort to her sister’s wedding to that guy named Tevye Ratz.
We talked for hours about little things which seemed fascinating at the time. Alice went to a show with Robert on Thursday and he said that Wednesday’s student government party depressed him, I guess because he felt out-of-place with all the new people.
I told Alice thank you for the gifts and said I’d see her this summer; she’ll be going to Richmond College for her graduate education classes, mostly.
It was very hot today and the pool was finally set up, so I went in with the family and Fern, who’s a very sweet girl; last night she and Marc went with her parents to see Damn Yankees.
Gary had told me he and Kathy enjoyed that show very much, too. Yesterday Gary left for summer Guard training at Fort Drum; he’ll be back in two weeks and hopes to see more of Kathy.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about “The Peacock Room,” making up dialogue, thinking out symbols, playing with my characters. I hope to finish the story by September and the start of my MFA program at Brooklyn.
Avis said her friend Joanne’s sister Barbra will also be in the BC MFA program. She’s 24 and an agoraphobic who also spent a year in her house, as I did.
Monday, June 10, 1974
It’s after midnight and still over 80°. I’ve just come back from Manhattan; the trip took a long time because the roadway on the Prospect Expressway had buckled under today’s record-breaking heat.
This morning I called up the personnel offices of over a dozen companies and got responses like “nothing whatever available” (McGraw-Hill), “nobody without experience” (Viking Press), “absolutely no jobs” (Time-Life). It is a very tight job market.
But I did go down to the New York State Employment Service, where I filled out an application. I’ll return there next week for an appointment with a counselor. They seem pretty friendly there, so maybe something will come of it.
Everyone says that employment agencies are a waste of time; I remember that Skip used to write ads for them, promising glamorous positions that actually did not exist, just so they could get people to come down to the agency.
Libby called me and said that the going-away party for Avis will be held at Libby’s new apartment behind SUBO on Saturday at 8 PM. She asked me to invite some of Avis’s friends whom she doesn’t know or can’t reach.
Tomorrow I’ll try to call Beverly, and Jacob, and Avis’s sister Ellen, and Joanne. The first ones that I called to invite were Scott and Sheila, who I ended up spending the evening with.
Earlier in the day, Scott had called me, confiding that he and Sheila were having “sexual problems.” Scott said they had sex only a few times a week and that Sheila was usually “unresponsive” (she does have orgasms) and “never takes the initiative.”
I asked Scott if he tells her what he enjoys sexually, and he said, “Yes, but she’s graceless” and she seems to get upset when he asks her to do something.
Scott is quitting his job next month – although it will be difficult to do so, for his boss is currently laid up from a heart attack – and Sheila will stop her temporary jobs. They’ll sublet the apartment on West 54th Street and head for the West Coast. They’ve bought a ’63 Catalina convertible which they keep at Scott’s parents’ house, and that will get them to California.
But Scott doesn’t want this thing to bother him all summer; he said they’ve got separate sleeping bags and Sheila wouldn’t mind if they never had sex. Sex has always been at the core of Scott’s existence.
The only advice I could offer was to tell him to discuss his feelings honestly with Sheila and not “protect” her from hurt by keeping silent; she’s got to know the situation before they both can make sensible decisions.
Hey, I’m not such a bad shrink! That’s what comes of being in therapy for eight years. I was talking to Ronna and she used the phrase, “Don’t make value judgments,” and when I pointed it out, she said my attitudes have been rubbing off on her.
Anyway, tonight I was just a friend to Scott and Sheila, not a problem-solver. I arrived at Scott’s parents’ house in Marine Park during supper and sat down at the dining room table with his family.
Scott’s father is a hard-driving businessman and Scott’s mother is also business-oriented. They’re very cordial to Sheila, though; perhaps they view her as a good, stable influence in Scott’s life.
This evening I got to know Sheila better, and I like her even more; she’s so charming, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t put it on.
Sheila and Scott told me that on Friday night they went out with Avis and with Glen, this guy Avis is flying to Europe with. (I don’t know if there’s any romance between them, but I doubt it, since she’s so hung up on seeing Helmut.)
Scott said he and Sheila got annoyed with Avis because they stood on line at the movie theater for a long time before Avis decided that she was too scared to seeWarhol’s Frankenstein. “If she’s afraid of that,” Scott said, “I wonder how she’s going to handle living in Europe alone.”
While their laundry was being done, Scott and I took Sheila to Rockaway to show her the beach at Breezy Point and the nice homes in Neponsit.
I offered to drive them home to Manhattan, mostly because I wanted to spend more time with them, so after we picked up their laundry at Scott’s parents’ house, we drove into the city.
I went up to their place for a coke, but it was late, and I left midtown soon after to get back to Brooklyn. I feel grateful that I have such nice friends.