A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, July 10, 1974
Another oppressively hot and humid afternoon. Perhaps the heat wave will break tonight; we might get a thunderstorm.
Last evening started out terribly, but I suppose it’s a sign that I am not cracking up completely that I didn’t allow myself to sink into a deep depression. I went to the Junction; in the back of my mind was the hope that I’d see Stacy, or perhaps even Ivan, getting on the Rockaway bus.
I did a stupid thing and made a U-turn on Nostrand Avenue. A policeman stopped me immediately and wrote me a summons. I saw the cop there, but somehow I thought it would be okay. So I got a ticket for $25: just the amount I earned on Monday.
I felt so despondent that I started crying as I drove down Flatbush Avenue, but I knew that if I went home straightaway, I would only feel worse, so I decided to visit Grandma Sylvia.
She was alone when I got there, but Grandpa Nat soon arrived after a sweaty train ride from work. I was glad to be able to tell them that I made some money, and for once, I actually enjoyed having dinner foisted upon me. I took their concern that I eat every last bit of pot roast, potatoes, Jell-O and cake as a sign of love.
Grandpa Nat and I watched the latest Watergate developments and then I finished reading Falling; the book is one I would have liked to have written. (I never realized that anyone else but our family refers to the family garment factory as “the place.”)
Grandma Sylvia sat down next to me in her special chair with the cushions and said, “You’re always reading.” I explained to her that the book is a story about a Jewish girl and her family, and I told her I’d like to write books, too.
Grandma Sylvia said that my cousin Robin writes poems and stories about her childhood and adolescence in the park: “Sometimes even smart colored fellas come over and help her.” Grandma related Robin’s feelings that Aunt Sydelle brought her up wrong; I said of course she did, but Grandma protested that Robin had a “wonderful upbringing.”
Robin, says Grandma Sylvia, wants to bring up Michael differently, “explaining things to him, and not worrying so much about being neat or looking good.”
According to Grandma Sylvia, Robin must be miserable because she’s alone, but Robin tells her she’s making a new life for herself. Robin realizes she married Joel just to get out of her house; Aunt Sydelle had remarried, and three stepsisters moved in.
(I recall when I was 16, Mom telling me as she drove me home from a session with Dr. Lipton, that unlike me, Robin didn’t have to be in therapy anymore “because she’s found a man who loves her.” I thought of saying, “Well, then, I guess I need to find a man who loves me in order not to still need therapy,” but didn’t.)
I should call Robin; I think I’d get along with her.
Grandma Sylvia and I talked about soap operas for a while, and then, before I left, I wished her good luck at the hospital; on Monday she goes in for her operation to get artificial hips.
Riding down the Boulevard, I saw Mason walking – he’s off from the Fresh Air Fund camp for a few days – and went over with him to Larry’s house. Larry was fixing ice cream in the kitchen and he gave us generous helpings, which we all took up to Larry’s room.
Larry’s becoming a “paper maven” from his work at his company in their Sample Room, and he gave both of us sheets of paper of every conceivable variety. We watched TV and listened to a comedy album, and I looked through Larry’s photo albums, which he embellishes with funny captions.
I like Larry; he’s a guy who’s into a lot of things and he won’t take shit from anyone, although since he’s so strong, he doesn’t have to. It was really pleasant, the three of us hanging out in his room.
We left at 11 PM, with Larry walking us out. For a while, we lost his chihuahua, Brownie, but after we found the dog, I drove Mason home, wishing him a good rest of the summer at camp.
Sunday, July 14, 1974
Last night I had a very satisfying dream, though I can remember only snatches of it now. In the dream, I had a new baby brother whom I loved very much. He was crawling around upstairs and was about to fall through the cracks between the bannisters when I lunged for him and grabbed him to safety. Mom scolded me because I could have made him excited and caused him to fall, but I didn’t mind her: I held the baby in my arms and he was safe.
At 1 PM, I woke up bleary-eyed and was groggy most of the day.
I went to a recital outside the Brooklyn Museum at 3 PM. A black pianist was playing Scott Joplin ragtime music, and he was very good. But I didn’t enjoy it much because I felt lousy: I feel that I’m getting chubby, and since I stopped lifting weights, my muscles have become flaccid again.
I’m not satisfied with myself. Alone for the day, I began to realize the futility of my existence. Vito thinks my taking him to the doctors is an imposition; he doesn’t understand that doing it gives me a sense of purpose.
Tomorrow I’m going to Mrs. Ehrlich; maybe I can lay this on her then. But I had hoped I was at the point where I could become my own therapist.
At 6 PM last evening I picked up Ronna, and we drove into Manhattan. She told me about double-dating with Rose on Friday night. Ronna said her date was tall and not very good-looking, “but he had a great body.”
I was a touch jealous, but she said he was dull: “You’ve spoiled me, kid.”
I thought that was the end of it until later in the night when we were reading the Sunday Times. She had the theater section and was commenting on a new movie with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif. “Ugh!” she said. “That’s a combination?”
Suddenly I felt very angry and told her so, and right away I realized I was angry with her for going on the date. (Maybe when she put down the actors, I felt she was putting down another unlikely combination: her and myself.)
Ronna said she would have felt angry in the same way had the situation been reversed and I’d been the one on a date; that made me feel better. Ronna also said that before the date, she told Susan that the worst thing that could happen was if she and the guy hit it off.
We went to the Elgin Theater, where they were showing Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. I had always wanted Ronna to see it, but I was afraid she’d hate it, as she didThe Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. But Ronna loved Bergman’s film; she thought “it raised very valid points about suffering and touching.”
It was only 8:30 PM when we left the movies; we couldn’t get a parking space in the Village, so we returned to Brooklyn and had a late dinner at Jahn’s in Sheepshead Bay. Then we bought the paper and returned to her house, empty except for one dog, whom we locked out of the bedroom.
We made love in her bed, and it was very good for both of us. Ronna and I talked about how we both liked a new definition of an orgasm that I read in Dr. Martin Shepard’s book: “An orgasm is the best reaction you are capable of in any particular act of lovemaking.”
We were both satisfied (and I have an involuntary smile even now that I think of it), and got dressed when her sister came home. Sue is so lonely that tonight she hitchhiked just to meet someone. Lucky for her, she met a guy who took her to a diner and talked. Sue is on diet, but she has a lot of weight to lose, and she says she “needs a guy.”
I left Ronna’s at 2 AM, which is why I didn’t wake up till this afternoon.
Tuesday, July 16, 1974
Last night I called Mrs. Ehrlich a couple of hours after I left her office in a blaze of anger. Brusquely, I told her that I would send her a $75 check and that she could cancel our next two appointments: “I wouldn’t want you to lose out on your $50 in fees.”
She said she had erred in bringing up the subject at the end of our session and that I was reacting impulsively, and it was unwise to terminate therapy on impulse.
I pretty much agreed, and she said we could discuss the matter further next week. And now my anger is starting to dissipate, so perhaps we can work out our relationship.
Mrs. Ehrlich said we should talk about what I was responding to, and I guess that’s a good idea. It’s not in my nature to just walk out on something important to me.
Last night Allan called, to tell me confidentially that he’d found an apartment near Columbia. He told Josh that he, Allan, didn’t want to live in Sheepshead Bay with the family of Evan and Fat Ronnie for much longer and said Josh was dragging his feet on getting an apartment.
Allan said that Josh came up with the lamest excuses for them not taking some apartments, and Allan concluded – as I did a long time ago – that Josh doesn’t really want to move, that he’s comfortable at his parents’ home despite all his protestations.
When Allan told Josh this, Josh got very pissed off, stalked off and said he never wanted to see Allan again. That sounds very unlike Josh, but maybe the truth hurt him so.
P.S.: Two days later, Allan had a place on West 113th Street, a $175-a-month three-room apartment. He said he may ask Elihu to move in with him when Elihu returns to the city from Providence.
Allan said he likes his job at Columbia and is taking a very enjoyable Art course. He went out to the beach to visit Mikey on Saturday; Larry was there, and on the beach, they ran into Alan Karpoff, who’d returned from Bolivia the previous day.
This morning I went to Brooklyn College and looked for Ronna but couldn’t find her; instead, I met a gaggle of other people. Ruth said she and Marty are moving to Syracuse in two weeks; although I’ve never yet received an invitation from them, she said she’d invite me to a get-together before they leave.
Rose came over and told me that she was sorry about asking Ronna to accompany her on that double-date. I told her there was nothing to apologize for. “You’re right,” Rose said. “What a pair of clods they were! I’m sure Ronna only appreciates you more now.”
I saw Andy, Josh’s friend, who’s really quite nice; he told me about all the English courses he’s taking. I waved to Stacy, who was walking with a girl whom I take to be her lover, and then I settled down in front of LaGuardia to talk to Stanley.
For an hour, I got the latest news in the worlds of film, politics and the media; Stanley must voraciously read every periodical in sight. After he went to visit Elayne in the Art Department, I left the campus.
I found Vito looking much better when I arrived at his house. Last night I called him, and he said that right after we got him home from Dr. Robbins on Friday, he was in the worst pain ever and cried all weekend.
But today, he felt so much better: he moved his bowels and the pain was confined to his hip. He and his mother are confused as to where to turn next: a neurologist, an acupuncturist, an internist?
I sat with Vito for a couple of hours, allowing his mother to go out for a while at least.
Grandma Sylvia is in the Hospital for Special Surgery, and the operation is scheduled for tomorrow. I’m scared that she might not survive the surgery; she’s old and not in the best of health. But I suppose it’s worth the risk to her if she can regain the power to walk.
Wednesday, July 17, 1974
Late yesterday afternoon, I went to the Junction to buy Dad a birthday card. Brendan, whom I met at Libby’s house, was working the cash register and we chatted for a while. He asked how my thesis is going (answer: it’s going nowhere atthe moment) and said he’ll be leaving for Maine soon, to that beach house that he so obviously loves.
I spotted Diane’s friend Tom going out of the subway and caught up with him. He was coming from his new job at Warner Bros. in Manhattan and had to eat before a 6PM class, so I joined him at McDonald’s.
We talked so much, discovering that we have a lot in common: he has sinusitis, liked Cries and Whispers and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. He said he probably could use a shrink although he plays the role of a neurotic with gusto.
I can tell he’s homosexual: his speech and mannerisms are vaguely effeminate and he has that sense of humor that gay people like Vito and Teresa’s friend Roger have.
Tom said he liked me a lot, and I found him to be a really nice and funny person. When I walked Tom to class, he said most of his friends are still from high school, that he hasn’t met anyone in college.
Driving around, I spotted Melvin walking in my neighborhood and dropped him off at his parents’ house. “I’m going to give them a thrill by popping in,” he said.
Melvin’s working, mostly; he thought he could make up his incompletes this summer but he just can’t work it in, so he’ll graduate in January. I told him to tell Morty I’d return the book I borrowed and then let him go. Melvin still always looks like someone just woke him out of a sound sleep.
Next, I headed for Rockaway (when I told Melvin where I was going, he almost changed his mind about going to his parents and said, “It’s so beautiful at the beach”).
I found Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel on the boardwalk and I joined them on their bench overlooking the ocean. Grandma Ethel said that dusk is her favorite part of the day. It was so mild, we stayed there until it became dark, watching the surfers and seagulls.
I went home soon after, wished Ronna good luck on her finals, and went to bed.
This morning I was restless, worried about Grandma Sylvia’s operation. So I decided to drive up to New York Hospital; even though I couldn’t do anything, I wanted to be around. Does that make sense?
I knew the operation was a long procedure and I was quite anxious. Finally, I found the right building (Special Surgery) and inquired about Grandma Sylvia at the desk.
The nurse called up and told me that surgery had been successful, the operation was over, but Grandma would be in the Recovery Room overnight.
I felt better, and after calling Grandpa Nat at “the place” to confirm the good news, I went up a few blocks to the Board of Higher Education Annex. Jay sent me some Chancellor’s Committee material and enclosed a note saying he’d been trying to reach me, so I thought I’d visit him at the University Student Senate office.
Jay wasn’t there when I arrived; however, Richie Rothbard and Clarissa invited me to come to have lunch with them. It was nice to be invited; they jokingly told me about getting drunk and having a late-night card game last night with Jay and Larry Friedman.
At another table, I spotted Duncan Pardue with Vice-Chancellor Healy; Duncan was recently appointed City University’s Public Relations Director. I remember him when he did the same thing at Brooklyn College.
Clarissa said that Fred is gone now and they’re searching for a replacement as Executive Director of the University Student Senate. When Jay arrived, he told me to sit in on the Steering Committee meeting with him and look over some résumés of people who had applied for the Executive Director’s job.
Steve and Richie also were sitting there with us. I didn’t find any suitable applicants, though I saw that Mendy submitted a résumé.
Saturday, July 20, 1974
What a difference a single day can make. Tonight I feel utterly alive, involved in the world, and comfortable with myself. The worry I had yesterday about my homosexual impulses growing stronger hasn’t totally faded away, nor do I expect to, but I see that I also have pretty definite heterosexual impulses, too.
Yesterday Ronna arrived here at 4 PM; she’d been at school with Susan and Alex, who’s leaving for Europe on Monday. We talked in my bedroom; I told her I was feeling down, but a few big hugs from her and some words made me feel better.
We discussed going out but decided that honestly we really wanted to stay in my room and make out. I explored her girl’s body and realized that without a doubt, however I feel about guys, I am attracted to Ronna sexually.
I love her and her roundness, the dark hairs on the nape of her neck flowing just a little way down her back; her navel, a small firm oval (despite her chubbiness, Ronna is surprisingly firm), the insides of her thighs.
We humped until my bed nearly collapsed; neither of us had orgasms but it was so great for both of us that I felt coming would have been a letdown. It was so pleasant, just lying on my bed with her.
But after a while, we realized it was 7 PM and we were both starving. So we got dressed and went over to Avenue T for some supper: turkey and pastrami sandwiches, french fries and sodas at the Mill Basin Deli. Then we took a long ride, during the course of which I became slightly nauseous.
It was probably just gas, but I felt similar to the way I used to during anxiety attacks. In any case, the feeling quickly passed, and by the time we got back to Ronna’s house, I felt fine.
By then it was dark, and the first drops of a cooling rainstorm were falling, so we took a walk to Flatlands Avenue and got ices and then walked around Canarsie for a while.
Inside her apartment, we were alone, and she showed me some old photographs, including some that brought her pain: pictures of Ivan and of her father before her parents’ divorce.
We watched TV in her bedroom and started making love again. It was one of the most intense sexual encounters that I’ve ever had. She let me take her vagina and fondle it; after I touched her clitoris and took my fingers out and smelled that rich, gamy smell of hers, I got fantastically aroused.
We both had tremendous orgasms; Ronna said she nearly passed out, and she looked it, too. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so close to another person’s body. We were both so physically exhausted that I stumbled around like a retard.
Ronna and I watched news bulletins on the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and I left at 2 AM although I would have liked to stay in Canarsie overnight.
Late this morning, I called Allan, and he and Fat Ronnie arrived a few hours later to pick me up. First, we went to this second-hand record store on St. Marks Place in the East Village: a small store packed with bargain-hunters.
When you’re with Fat Ronnie, you can expect to hear a lot about food; he seems to know every restaurant and bar in Manhattan, but then he looks as if he should.
We ate at the Buffalo Roadhouse, sitting outdoors on Seventh Avenue South; I had a burger on an English muffin, iced tea and a sip of Fat Ronnie’s drink, a Tequila Sunrise with tequila, orange juice and grenadine syrup.
Then we walked over to Fat Ronnie’s girlfriend’s place; she wasn’t home, so we trucked on over to Eighth Street, taking a roundabout way and doing a lot of walking. Ronnie showed me E.E. Cummings’ house on Patchin Place.
The two of them stopped at Orange Julius while I went across the street to the Eighth Street Bookshop, where Laurie gave me a discount on the book I bought, a signed copy of Seventh Heaven, poems by Patti Smith.
Laurie asked me how I was doing, but she was at the register so we didn’t really have time to have much of a conversation.
Fat Ronnie, Allan and I were walking down Sixth Avenue when Ronnie shouted, “Richie! Those girls know you!” It was Susan, Felicia and Ronna, who had also spent the day in the Village.
Ronna and Felicia were going home on the D train, so I decided to join them. While we were talking on the corner, this skinny, slightly drunk, older Puerto Rican guy started bothering the girls, and I was macho enough to tell him to get lost without getting into a fight – and we said goodbye to Fat Ronnie, Allan and Susan.
On the subway ride back to Brooklyn, Ronna remarked that she didn’t recognize me on the street at first: “I just thought you were some nice-looking guy.”