A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, June 13, 1974
I spent last evening at Avis’s house. Arriving just before 8 PM, I woke her out of a nap; she came to the door, barefoot and groggy, but she looked as beautiful as I’d ever seen her. We had tea and coffee in the kitchen as she talked about the traumas she’s been going through.
Slowly she has been coming to the realization that Helmut may not want to see her. “Maybe, though, he’ll be there to meet me at the airport in Amsterdam,” Avis said. “And maybe there’s an Easter bunny, too.”
The night before, she let Jacob read Helmut’s last letter, the one he sent her in April, to get a dispassionate opinion as to Helmut’s state of mind. Jacob said that the letter’s tone sounded “matter-of-fact” to him, as though Helmut was fishing for things to say.
For the first time, I saw real anger toward Helmut in Avis’s eyes. She’s been living with a dream since last October, struggling to earn the money needed for the trip to Europe, preparing to go in so many ways.
All along I knew she was letting herself in for disappointment; perhaps I should have laid out reality for her. But Avis wouldn’t have listened at the time – and anyway, people must make their own choices.
Now she’s just trying to hold herself together and make the last-minute preparations for the trip. She was upset and close to tears, and I took her hand and said maybe she should let things out now, but she said she’d face up to reality in Germany and try not to break down before then.
She must see Helmut to find out what went on. Also, he owes her $65 and she’s desperate for cash. She’s going to ask Glen, who speaks German, to come with her to Bremen and try to locate Helmut, for whom she has no address. Avis said she knows there’ll be a big scene when she sees Helmut, and she’s not looking forward to that.
Changing the subject, I asked her for her impressions of Scott and Sheila. She thinks they’re having a lot of problems, just by the way Scott winces at some of Sheila’s remarks. Like me, Avis believes Sheila to be fully capable of handling America without Scott – something he doesn’t seem to realize.
Avis knows all about Saturday’s party; the surprise ended when Libby called and finally told her that we were having trouble locating her friends. I inquired about Joanne’s sister Barbra, and Avis told me that Barbra is 24 and stayed in the house for eight years as therapist after therapist treated her at home – Joanne fought successfully against institutionalizing Barbra – until finally one therapist clicked.
Barbra began to go out of the house, and then her therapist told her parents that she should move out on her own. Since then, she’s been going through dozens of changes and love affairs, as if making up for lost time.
Avis and I then discussed Mikey. She said she once thought of asking Mikey out, but he’s so passive, she “couldn’t hack teaching him how to act with a woman.” Once I hoped that Mikey and Debbie would hit it off. They might have, had Mikey made a positive move.
Avis mentioned how Alan Karpoff conquered his own passivity toward women: On a tour of Israel with twenty women (including Ivan’s girlfriend Vicky), Alan just decided to “play-act the aggressive role” and he ended up having a fine summer.
Alan is now in Bolivia, and his twin Carl is not exactly one of Avis’s friends anymore, especially after he stood her up on New Year’s Eve.
We were interrupted by a phone call from Steve, Avis’s high school sweetheart. He said hello to me (“You’re the guy who Shelli broke up with, right?”); it’s been years since I met him. Although Steve has a girlfriend in Yonkers, someone he met at school in Buffalo, Steve and Avis are very fond of each other.
As it was getting late and she felt she was coming down with a sore throat, I hugged Avis goodbye and said I’d see her on Saturday at the party for her.
Today I went to the beach by myself. As I was walking back up Beach 124th Street to my car, I met Davy, returning from his class at summer school. When I remarked that it was a beautiful day, Davy agreed: “I ran ten miles this morning!” No wonder he’s in such good shape.
Saturday, June 15, 1974
It’s difficult to take responsibility for your feelings, but more often than not, it’s satisfying in the long run.
I remember when I was a teenager in group therapy with Dr. Lipton, a girl became annoyed with me because, she said, “All we know about you is that your mother hates when you walk on the living room carpet and so you do it to annoy her!”
I did hide behind intellectualizing in those days, but what I told the group was still important. I’d been brought up to believe that what looked nice and “proper” was more important than feelings and instincts, and my walking on the carpet was more than adolescent spite: I was telling my parents that I would not submit to not-feeling.
Even my anxiety attacks were a kind of rebellion, as my bodyforced me to listen to it.
Things started rough with Ronna last evening. We knew we had to talk, so I drove around Brooklyn aimlessly as we did.
I told Ronna that I wanted to sleep with other people, males and females, and that I don’t want to marry her or even live with her; I also tried to find out how she felt about our relationship and how we stand a month after our Mother’s Day talk.
At times, I felt I was reaching out to her and she wasn’t there: she had her head turned, looking out the window. I guess it’s harder for her to trust me than vice versa.
But after a long, difficult talk, she finally told me that she felt much the same way as I did although she admitted to being a bit hurt because I don’t love her passionately. (She said, though, that “this is probably more comfortable.”)
Ronna didn’t seem shocked or disgusted by my homosexual inclinations and said it doesn’t make me any less of a man in her eyes – maybe more of a man because I’m honest with myself.
We talked a long time and took deep breaths, and after a while, we both felt better.
Ronna and I decided to go to Brooklyn Heights while it was still daylight at 8 PM. I parked on Remsen Street, by Rochelle Wouk’s old office, now adorned with a sign that says “Somebody, M.S.W., Primal Therapy.”
We took in the shops around Montague Street. There was a beautiful series of signs in a florist’s window, a sort of essay called “Diversity, Thy Name is Life,” talking about how wonderful the differences between people are and how they should not lead to hate but to love.
There were those trendy stores and tea shoppes and cheese places and the sidewalk cafés. Children were playing and people were walking their dogs.
Holding hands and staring at the river and the Manhattan skyline, we strolled the length of the Promenade and walked along Willow Street, looking for Norman Mailer. Ronna pointed out Mona’s old apartment on Pierrepont, where she and Ivan broke up one night when they baby-sat for his niece.
At Baskin-Robbins we got root beer, and because it started to get dark, we went back to Canarsie, where I gave her my parents’ graduation gift: a music box for jewelry. Her mother gave me aWriter’s Market ’74, something I could really use; maybe I’ll even sell some stories.
Alone in her room, we made love; she let me do some things for the first time. We lay on the couch a long time, and afterwards I felt good and calm and clean. I left at 2 AM, came home and fell asleep right away.
Josh called today to ask me if I wanted to buy Earth Shoes with him, but I declined without feeling guilty about it (another step forward!). I got my new TV set today, and I called Jeff to wish him a happy sixth birthday. My godson is growing up; hopefully, he’ll be happy.
Sunday, June 16, 1974
I’m feeling so positive about myself and about life in general. Last evening I had a great time.
At 8:30 PM, Ronna and I arrived at Libby’s place in the apartment building behind SUBO on the triangle formed by Campus Road, Amersfort Place and East 27th Street.
The door was opened by Clay, whom I recognized as a gay friend of Vito’s. In the living room, we found the other guests sitting on the floor alongside a low table (which I later realized was actually Clay’s mattress board held up by milk cartons).
As I kissed Avis’s sister Ellen hello, she said, “I have stunning news for you about Elihu.” He wrote her that he’s leaving Brown and transferring to the CUNY Graduate Center’s history Ph.D. program; he’ll move in with his brother in Brooklyn Heights.
How odd. Both Ellen and I thought Elihu was so happy in Providence. He’d become close with the men in his consciousness-raising group. “He’d stopped being my ‘girlfriend’ and started being my friend,” Ellen said.
She said a dispute between Elihu and a Brown professor over a paper prompted the move. I’ll have to write Elihu to find out what’s going on.
Avis was sitting on the floor, looking as happy as the cat that swallowed the canary: she got a telegram from Helmut, in addition to a letter, giving her a phone number in Bremen to call.
When I kissed Beverly hello, she said she was sorry that she’d never left for Colorado. The last time I’d spoken to her, I’d called to say goodbye before she was supposed to move there.
I introduced Ronna to the people she didn’t know, and we settled down, talking to Mason, who’s leaving on Thursday for camp, and Mikey, who, like me, hasn’t got a summer job yet, either.
While Libby and Clay were cooking up a storm in the kitchen, we spoke to Brendan and Louise, a terribly nice couple; he goes to Brooklyn College and she’s in the nursing program at Downstate.
The dinner was wonderful, almost elegant: all-vegetarian from split pea soup to a kind of vegetable soufflé and eggplant parmigiana.
Clay is really an amazing person. I’d heard from Vito that he was a proficient writer, but he’s a fantastic cook, has taught himself seven languages – his quoting The Iliad in ancient Greek made classics major Avis envious – and seems to have traveled everywhere, at least from what he was telling Beverly and me.
Clay was shirtless most of the evening, and he has a terrific body. If I wanted to get into a homosexual relationship now, I’d probably think about Clay first. (And, no, I don’t feel guilty about my feelings.)
Seated next to me at dinner, Ellen said she’s been going through a rough time, having just ended a brief affair with a male roommate. She’s very bitter about her old boyfriend.
Ellen remembered that years ago she asked me about Poli Sci teachers and that I told her that despite his last name, Mr. Ryan was Jewish and considered a good instructor. “If only I knew what taking his class would lead to!” Ellen said.
She’s also still angry with Karen and was hoping Teresa would arrive because she wanted to go to the Coast with Teresa this summer, especially if a teaching job in Suffolk pans out. (Teresa never did arrive, and Avis said she has a habit of doing that.)
Lois and Howie, Ellen reported, were fine; Lois is still proofreading, and Howie’s deputy chairman of the Philosophy Department at BC this summer.
Ellen’s really into films: all her roommates are film freaks who own copies of Citizen Kane and other movies they play on their projector. Ellen said she sees Stanley about twice a week at screenings.
Ronna also seemed to be having a good time across the dinner table opposite me; she talked with Brendan about Nova Scotia and Maine, and after dinner, Ronna helped Libby and Louise clean up.
With the table cleared away, we had a cake, which was in the shape of a heart with “Bon Voyage” written on it, only in German – Clay’s doing – and with a joint on top of it instead of a candle.
As we ate the cake, we smoked grass, passing the joint and a waterpipe around. (As usual, Mikey and Ronna abstained, but I didn’t feel guilty about smoking and Ronna didn’t look uncomfortable about not smoking.)
Ronna bought Avis a yo-yo for the plane. Avis and Glen are taking the bus to Montreal on Tuesday and will leave for Amsterdam from there because Canadian student rates are cheaper.
As it got late, everyone began to get tired, and Ronna and I took our leave after 1 AM, saying goodbye to our friends, old and new. I hugged Avis so hard, telling her I loved her and I’d miss her and that I wished her tons of luck in Germany.
Then Ronna and I went back to her house and had milk and home-baked cookies with her sister and Elise. What a wonderful night.
Tuesday, June 18, 1974
6 PM. Avis must be getting ready to board her jet in Montreal now. I admire her courage, going off alone to a totally new and different life in Europe, though I suspect she’ll be back in New York before the year is out.
Avis has been a big part of my life. I suppose it was just two years ago when I was so in love with her and afraid to tell her; then she went off to camp and met Seymour.
Looking back now, I realize that had I been more aggressive, Avis would have become my lover. But I’m glad the way things turned out: now we can always be friends without the possessiveness or jealousy that ex-lovers often fall prey to.
She is a very special woman (a term she consciously uses, as opposed to “girl,” which I have a habit of falling into) and I wish her good luck in Europe; she knows she can come to me if she needs help.
Last evening, I got a call from an unfamiliar voice: it was Allan Cooper. He’s in town for good now; it took him three days to drive up with his stuff from Tampa, but until he andJosh find an apartment, he’ll be staying with Fat Ronnie’s family.
Allan and Josh wanted to know if I’d come with them last night to the Heights, and although I felt tired and depressed, I agreed to pick them up in Sheepshead Bay.
Allan looks better than he did in March; his beard is gone, though he did pick up a few pounds. His long fingernails still bother me, and he still hasn’t acquired an idea of how to dress: he was wearing clashing plaid pants and shirt, white socks and suede shoes.
After some initial uncomfortableness, I felt better and well-suited to the craziness of Josh and Allan as they yelled at drivers of other cars, etc. We met Josh’s friend Andy and his girl Lisa outside their brownstone on Joralemon Street.
This guy, Rick Steinmetz, wanted Josh and Andy to see the paint job he’d done on his new apartment. It seemed a pretty tacky job for a professional and I felt uncomfortable because the place was so small and confining.
We all walked to Capulet’s, a bar on Montague Street, and had drinks; of course, I stuck to 7-Up. It wasn’t much of an evening, as Josh’s friends aren’t exactly sparkling personalities. Rick works for Councilman (and hopefully Congressman) Fred Richmond and is a bit dull.
Still, just being out with people lifted me out of my blue funk.
Today I woke up late today and found a letter from Prof. Kramer, who said the BC English Department had made up their teaching schedules for the fall, but he’d keep me in mind for any last-minute vacancies and told me to call him in September.
After taking my typewriter over to Ralph’s father’s shop on Utica Avenue, I drove to Mrs. Ehrlich’s office. I talked about wanting approval, and I told her that maybe she should share some of her experiences with me.
She interpreted that as my need, after a week of frustrating job-hunting, to have her accept me into her “family” because even my own family treats me like an outsider. (The other day, I was talking about Open Marriage, and Dad wanted to know, “How come you get such kooky ideas, not like the rest of us?”)
But I think that, in reality, Mrs. Ehrlich’s anonymity restricts my verbal productions in therapy: she urges me to be open and free with her, yet she reveals nothing of herself.
Of course, I do get her feelings, which are the most important thing, but I wish she’d share some of her experiences with me; I think that’s not a neurotic desire. In the last analysis – odd choice of words – I must be my own therapist, for I am an expert on me by now.
Mom and Dad are going to Las Vegas tomorrow for a five-day junket, and it will be good to be alone for a while, without parental admonitions to clean up or shape up or straighten up. Of course, another part of me resents their leaving me alone and “helpless.”