A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Monday, July 1, 1974
I was driving down Rockaway Beach Boulevard this afternoon when I spotted Stacy alighting from the bus. I recognized her figure many feet away from the way she walks, as if her hands were always on her hips.
She came over and kissed me, which I liked but didn’t expect, and asked how I was doing. Because her throat was very sore, she was going to see the doctor after dinner; she aggravated it by singing for her friends for three hours.
Stacy said she had been coming back from work and was thinking about going to Canada.
“I met Ivan on the bus the other day,” she said, “and I was thinking maybe – not facetiously – we should all get together some day. I keep meaning to call Ivan about it.”
I told Stacy I’d phone her soon, and as I drove home, I got to thinking about Ivan. The last time we met, he did say I should give him a call. And for so long I’ve been wanting to talk to him – not talk like the usual ritual bullshit impress-each-other competition that we go through on our chance meetings, but to talk honestly about feelings.
I decided to call Ivan because – well, because I wanted to, for whatever reasons, and because it was a way of helping myself get over the fear of rejection. I was very scared: that cold gnawing in the pit of my stomach was anxiety, anxiety that he could hurt me by rejection, ridicule and even just by me comparing myself to him.
Yet I told myself I’d be completely honest and level with him, even about my not having a job (after all, Ivan is making $1200 a month, or so he told Ronna). And when 7:40 PM rolled around – that was the time I’d set for the exercise in counterphobia – I dialed the number and asked for Ivan.
“Speaking,” he said, and I said, “Hi, this is Richie Grayson.”
He asked me how I was and what I was doing, and I asked him how he liked his job, and he said it was “very interesting, but it’s too long a story to get into now.”
I told Ivan that I just called to see how he was, that Stacy’s mentioning seeing him on the bus got me thinking about him, and that I always feel uncomfortable when we meet because he went out with Ronna for so many years.
He said I shouldn’t feel that way, and I replied that should or shouldn’t was irrelevant, that I do feel uncomfortable. I said this uncomfortable feeling bothered me because we’d always gotten along well from the first time Shelli introduced us.
“Yeah, well, I guess if Vicky had an old boyfriend, I’d feel the same way,” Ivan said. I told him that the main reason I didn’t ask Ronna out for so long was that I dreaded being compared to him.
“That’s crazy, Dick,” he said.
“I know, but I did feel that way.”
He told me to drop by the beach this week, as he’s off from work and Vicky’s back from Canada. I told him that I’d try to come over and we exchanged goodbyes.
It was a small thing, but it took some courage for me to call Ivan, I think. It wasn’t half as bad as I thought it might be, and if I was tongue-tied or sounded stupid, at least I was me.
Afterwards I felt a low-key sense of triumph and went to Kings Plaza to buy Scott a birthday card, and on the way home, I walked past Morty’s house, and remembered how he always tells me to come around.
I joined him and three friends of his – Steve, another Steve, another Richie – who were sitting around smoking grass and listening to a jazz album. They’re jazz freaks, and they asked if I liked jazz.
Taking a hit on the joint, I said, “I don’t know much about it, but I like this record.” They smiled. Honesty is so great.
We read The National Lampoon and looked at Stefanie’s turtles – Morty’s watching them while Stefanie and Carol are in Chicago – and talked, and I felt quite comfortable there.
When I said that Vito was in the hospital, Morty got quite upset and he wrote him a letter for me to deliver; the sealed envelope contained a joint. We all went to the backyard and smoked some more grass, and then I went home, feeling really good.
I finally finished at the dentist this morning. Dr. Hersh cleaned my teeth and they still feel so shiny and fresh.
Wednesday, July 3, 1974
Almost midnight. Another hot, hazy day is ending, and the holiday weekend is beginning. Independence Day: when am I going to be independent and a man? It shakes me to admit that I’m 23 years old and still in some kind of embryonic state.
Yesterday in the hospital, Vito asked me, “Is it manly to cry?”
“Of course,” I said quietly.
“Then I think I’m about to be very manly,” he said.
Vito’s home now, back in the apartment on Coney Island Avenue, and he’s happy about that: he called me early this evening. The doctors discharged Vito, saying all the tests were negative. They gave him some painkillers, and a hospital bed will be arriving on Friday.
Vito said that soon after I left the hospital yesterday, a whole group of people showed up: Helen and her boyfriend, Josef from 160 LaGuardia, a co-worker of Vito’s. They kept his spirits up and even said that Mike now felt guilty about not inviting Vito to the end-of-the-term party he threw as outgoing Student Government president.
So now Vito will start seeing private doctors: an internist, a chiropractor, maybe an acupuncturist. I hope everything works out. “You were really great,” Vito said, “coming to see me so often.”
Last night, on the spur of the moment, I decided to see if I could catch Ronna at the Canarsie Mental Health Center; she was glad to see me, if a bit embarrassed for her boyfriend to show up in front of her therapy group as they were coming out of the building together.
Ronna was upset because Ted, the group leader, was mad at her for not showing up last week; she’s had a crush on Ted, and so it hurt her.
I let her read Avis’s letter from Germany. (Avis had included a greeting for Ronna.) Avis really sounds like she’s not sure where she’s at: she wants to make a good relationship with Helmut but doesn’t know if she can.
Avis writes, “Oh, it’s all very confusing and a bit difficult to cope with. . . I guess I’ll stay in Bremen until it’s time for me to go.”
Ronna and I went back to her house, walked the dog, and then locked ourselves in the bedroom and got into bed. We really let ourselves go, just fooling around.
I was concentrating on the pleasurable feelings of sex and not worried about technique or who’ll come first. We sort of melded into one another, very slowly and deliberately at first, and we both had orgasms; mine was a total surge of pent-up energy and emotion.
I held her lovingly and we laughed about things I can’t even remember now, 23 hours later. Her head was on my bare chest, and I tried to fix her cowlick but finally gave up.
We watched the 11 PM news and then went into the kitchen, joining Ronna’s sister, her mother, and her mother’s old boyfriend Louis, an Italian construction worker who seems solid and dependable, at the kitchen table.
I told Ronna about my call to Ivan, and she seemed to think I was doing the right thing. And Ronna lit up when I told her what happened when I met Hal the other day, how he asked me how she was and I replied, “She’s good,” and Hal said, “Well, I knowthat.”
“All your ex-boyfriends know you’re good,” I told Ronna with a smile.
We kissed good night, and I came home to bed just around midnight, the same time it is now.
Elihu wrote to me from Providence: “I’m rather confused. Things are happening too quickly for me to come to terms with them all.” He’s been accepted at the CUNY Graduate Center’s doctoral program in history; he has to take a pre-orals exam in autumn based on a reading list he hasn’t seen yet.
And Elihu isn’t sure where he’s going to live. He can’t afford to live in the Heights with his brother, and the idea of staying with his parents makes him unhappy. Elihu has to get a part-time job and he’s going to miss all his friends at Brown.
“Don’t feel too bad for me,” he ended the letter. “By the time you get this, I’ll be happy.”
Early this evening, I drove out to the beach. Riding through Rockaway, I waved to Daveyracing his bicycle down the Boulevard. I also saw Ivan’s mother riding her weird three-wheeler and saw Vicky’s father mowing his lawn.
I called Ivan this afternoon, but his mother said he was out and he didn’t return my call. I’ve realized he probably won’t call me back. Ivan’s trouble is that he’s afraid to tell people the truth for fear of hurting them.
Just as he should have told Ronna straight-out when he was no longer in love with her, Ivan should have told me that he really didn’t want to see me. Oh well, I’ve learned something, and I can now put away the thought of being friends with Ivan; at least there’s certainty.
Instead, I stopped by to see an old, valued friend: Mikey. He and Larry were working on his car, and Mikey’s mother and grandmother were sitting on the porch watching them. I noticed Mikey’s arms were terribly bruised from his job loading packages and cartons onto trucks. Larry said it’s not really worth the $3 an hour pay.
When they finished with the car, we joined the women on the porch, and Mikey’s mother gave us cokes as we sat talking and watching the darkening sky, the haloed moon, and what we could see of the Rockaway Third of July fireworks.
It was such a pleasant evening: Mikey, his mother, Larry and I exchanged stories and gossip and laughter. Mikey said Mike is still working on his locksmith correspondence course and is working for Hilary Gold, counseling students on dropping courses, which was a Mike specialty.
Mike’s ex, Riesa, drove by; she was with Sally Wax and another girl, and they came up and we all chatted for a while. Before I knew it, it was late, so I came home to Brooklyn.
Allan called, asking if I wanted to go to the beach tomorrow morning. I told him that Ronna and I were driving into the city to go to the Museum of Modern Art and advised him against facing all that beach traffic to Rockaway on July Fourth – which is now, since it’s well past midnight.
Sunday, July 7, 1974
Last night I read Falling. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer is a very gifted novelist. I’m sure a lot of it is quite autobiographical, and I intend most of my writing to be based on my own feelings, experiences, and memories.
If so, I have to start practicing the complete honesty that I’m always giving lip service to and start revealing the thoughts that I’m most ashamed of.
Last night I masturbated to a longstanding fantasy: a muscular guy and I are fighting, both of us without shirts, and he’s about to hit me. At the moment the punch lands in my fantasy, I have an orgasm.
I wonder what purpose the fantasy serves. It might be that I’m still too repressed to imagine oral/genital sex with a guy, and it may be a substitute for that: it’s the only totally acceptable way for two guys to have physical contact, in a fight.
That’s probably why, even though I was so small and skinny and with glasses, that I never really minded getting into a fight. I actually liked having boxing matches with other boys at the beach in Rockaway when I was younger.
We have a cute 16mm movie somewhere of the time they set up a real boxing ring and me and Brucie were in our swim trunks futilely trying to knock each other out with oversized boxing gloves.
Those were the only times I’ve ever had close physical contact with other half-naked guys.
Maybe I should just “come out” and get it over with. “Am I a homosexual?” is a question I’ve asked myself for years, and I’ve never found a satisfactory answer. I know I’m attracted to men, and I always will be, but I couldn’t be satisfied just by a man. I don’t know: it’s something I have to work at.
Today I went to the movies, the theater across from Lincoln Center, where I saw Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Playing chess with Death: I liked that. The film was about a man’s search for life’s meaning, and it moved me a lot.
I felt like a part of the film, even as I left the theater and made my way past the Juilliard School and the Red Chinese embassy to my car. I drove a few blocks down to Columbus Circle, to the First New York Book Fair at the Cultural Center.
The exhibitors were from underground and alternative publishing houses and magazines (a lot of Third World, Women’s and Gay stuff). I gathered up a lot of flyers and pamphlets: places I can write to and submit material and maybe one day have a book published by.
The Fiction Collective was there, but no one representing it was at their table, so I just took copies of two new books: Baumbach’s Reruns and Spielberg’sTwiddledum/Twaddledum.
More and more, I know I’m going to be a novelist: maybe not a popular novelist but a respected minor talent. I figured out that my diaries already add up to over 700,000 words, or roughly a manuscript twice the size of Gone with the Wind.
A little later, sitting at the counter of Junior’s, eating my hamburger with smothered onions, I felt good and glad to be alone with myself for the day. It was almost a treat, taking myself places.
I drove to Marine Park and stopped at Scott’s parents’ house, staying there until evening. Scott’s mother gave me iced tea, and Scott and Sheila introduced me to Yves and Danielle, two Parisians with whom they’re traveling to Los Angeles.
Scott met Danielle in Israel last year; she’s a medical student. Yves – her boyfriend, I guess – spoke English a lot less well than her, and I tried out some broken French on him, asking him where in France he was from. When he answered, ”Corse,” I asked, “Comme Napoleon?” and he nodded and that was about it.
They’re leaving tomorrow, and Scott and Sheila’s apartment has been sublet to a very nice Air France employee. All of us washed and vacuumed and turtle-waxed the car, a ’65 Catalina. Despite the heat, I enjoyed working with the others; it gave me a sense of belonging.
Scott asked me about Avis and said that they’re going to visit Scott and Avis’s foster child, Willette, on her Navajo reservation. When they get back, Scott will be going to law school in D.C. and Sheila will be at their apartment, to which she invited me to dinner in the fall.
Somehow, with everybody, including Scott’s parents, giving suggestions as to how to do it, they got all their stuff in the trunk, and as it got late, I said “Au revoir” to everyone. Part of me wishes I were going on a six-week cross-country trip, too.
Monday, July 8, 1974
When I arrived home last evening, Jonny told me that Allan had called, so I phoned him back and we had a long chat.
Today Allan was to begin his job at the Columbia School of Business and start an evening Art course at the school (the job allows him tuition for 6 credits a semester).
Allan said that he’s angry with Mike for not driving him to the airport on his visit here last March. He’s generally fed up with Mike’s self-important attitude. Allan said he left Brooklyn for Florida thinking he had a lot of friends here, and I’m afraid he now feels that very few of them are left.
But I guess that’s what happens after an absence of two years.
I was awakened this morning by a call from Vito, who asked if I could please drive him to Canarsie to the radiologist and to Dr. Robbins, the chiropractor I recommended, and I agreed.
Before going to pick up Vito and his mother, I stopped off at Hirschfeld-for-Senator headquarters in Borough Park, handing in the petitions with the signatures I got the other day on 13th Avenue. It felt good to get the $25 in cash I got paid. The woman in charge said they’d call me to work at the HQ itself.
I got to Vito’s house in time to help him complete dressing. Leading him down two flights of steps was difficult, and it was also hard to get him into my car. I drove him to the radiologist, who happened to be across the street from Ronna.
Leaving Vito with his mother at the doctor’s, I rang Ronna’s bell, and we shared some lemonade; Ronna had to clean up the house today. I gathered that her mother was giving her hell for being a slob, for wasting her time taking courses, and for not having a job.
Last night they went out to an Israeli nightclub with the family for her grandparents’ wedding anniversary. I had been invited too, but I declined; I’m not a part of the family, after all, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I want to be.
From Ronna’s, I hurried back to the corner. Though the x-rays had been taken, they have to take them again on Thursday because the barium enema and so much shit are still inside Vito. They did show the spasm.
We had about an hour’s wait at the chiropractor. It’s pathetic to see Vito struggle to walk with his cane. People on the street stare at him, and I feel so sad seeing a once-lively person so down.
Dr. Robbins is a genial, always-joking man; at first he thought I was Vito’s brother. Mrs. LoGiudice didn’t believe in chiropractors, but I think Dr. Robbins convinced her. My parents have a lot of faith in him, and he seems to know his stuff.
Vito told him the whole story, and Dr. Robbins got angry at the indifference of the doctors, saying the traction only made him worse, the Percodan could’ve become addictive.
Dr. Robbins was also amazed that they didn’t give Vito a back injection. He gave Vito various treatments: electrodes, freezing his back with ethyl chloride, cracking his back and massaging him.
We were in there for over 30 minutes and the doctor gave him tips on how to go to the bathroom and how to sit. Vito is to call him tomorrow to see what’s what.
But Vito is still very discouraged and without hope. Perhaps it was from the strain, but I was afraid Vito would faint on the way home. It was torture for me to watch Vito, in agony, climb his stairs, but knowing I’m doing a good deed made me feel better.
Mrs. LoGiudice thinks I’m so wonderful, “especially for a rich person.” Usually she thinks “rich people” are selfish and mean. I really should write up Vito’s recent medical history and send it to Geraldo Rivera or someone to expose how badly the doctors treated a patient.
I’m going to watch the Canadian election returns now.