A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Monday, July 22, 1974
I got to Manhattan at 10 AM today. Jay Hershenson had called me up on Saturday, asking if I’d serve with him on a University-wide committee to hire a director for a CUNY Instructional Resource Center, and I agreed.
The office was closed when I got to there, but soon Debbie Forte, the University Student Senate secretary, opened it, and a few minutes later Jay arrived. He asked me about Mike, whom he appointed to the Academic Affairs Committee to the Board of Higher Ed. Mike hasn’t shown up for several meetings, and Jay’s a bit pissed off and somewhat embarrassed.
We walked over to the main BHE building, to the office of Dean Leslie Berger, who’s in charge of the committee. He gave us a packet of résumés of those applying for the job, and we set to work in an office, reading and rating them. The crucial need is to help the Open Admissions students who need remedial work in writing and math.
It was an enjoyable task and gave me valuable experience in how to prepare my own academic résumé. We worked for a little over an hour and then returned to the University Student Senate office.
Jay’s scheduled meeting at Queensborough was canceled, so he asked me to stay and have lunch with him and Clarissa. I waited while he called Dr. Giardino, the BHE chairman, and looked through today’s mail. Jay is planning to set up a CUNY-wide newspaper, starting in September; Richie Rothbard will be editor.
We walked up York Avenue to Gleason’s Pub and ordered lunch. Clarissa and Jay and I talked sports and CUNY politics. He asked me what I thought of Ron Harrington, and I said Ron is abrasive.
The University Student Senate has been a good experience for me; I’ve learned so much and met a lot of people there. After lunch, I parted with Jay and Clarissa and walked down “Bedpan Alley” over to the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Grandma Sylvia was looking somewhat better today although she complained of a cold; I suggested that it might also be an allergy or something. The doctor was supposed to come in and check her out.
She was still in that traction-like contraption, with a catheter, although the IV bottle was gone and she had eaten a full lunch.
Robin arrived shortly after I did. I hardly recognized her, as she’s lost so much weight and her hair is a different color.
She told Grandma that Aunt Sydelle had called her this morning to invite her to the beach club in Lido Beach, but Robin wasn’t “into that scene”; she said it was the first time she’d spoken to her mother in weeks and the conversation upset her very much.
Robin has been writing a lot of poems, a collection called Muddling Through. She got the title from something Dad told her last year – “Sometimes people just have to muddle through” – and the phrase stuck in her mind.
She’s in a sensitivity group, Michael is at Camp Creative or something, and she’s very happy – not that Grandma Sylvia believes it. She said that Robin is “too deep . . . not like normal girls, satisfied with a home and family.”
Robin derided our family’s idea of happiness as “a home on Long Island,” and I couldn’t agree with her more. We both said we were the black sheep of our families; she feels she was battered, emotionally and physically, by Aunt Sydelle.
Her brother, she says, is middle class and will do whatever their mother wants; he may even marry his girlfriend, although Robin feels he should have learned from her mistake of getting married too young. Joel, she says, is now going with “a wonderful girl” who lives in a commune in Brooklyn, and “he’s into the occult, which is really cool.”
I have sympathy for Robin, but in a way I see her as a parody of one side of myself. She said to Grandma Sylvia: “Shoulds and I don’t get along,” but she doesn’t want Michael to be influenced by Aunt Sydelle’s neurosis: she has sympathy for everyone except her mother.
Robin even said that the best thing for people is to cut off all contact with their parents. And she’s into all the things the Counter-Culture Establishment fosters, including astrology, and she tries to convert Grandma Sylvia to all this stuff.
Before we left the hospital, Grandma sat up and dangled her feet off the bed: she’s a great lady, and I don’t know why Robin thinks she can change her into something she’s not. Grandma is an old lady and is not about to become a hippie or something. Why should she?
Wednesday, July 24, 1974
6:30 PM. In a little while I’m going to watch the House Judiciary Committee debate impeachment. This morning the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the President must hand over 64 tapes, but so far, Nixon has not said if he’ll comply.
Last evening Mrs. Ehrlich called and said that due to a cancellation, I could have an earlier appointment. I agreed, and in a way, it made it easier for me to go to the session, knowing that she was expecting me and held no grudges.
She told me I had a temper tantrum last week and that my behavior was completely unacceptable. I said that the fee might not have bothered me at another time; she did take responsibility for erring in not bringing up the subject until the end of our session.
I told her about her going away next week, and Ronna and my parents also going away, and she wondered why I didn’t mention this before. “It’s unusual for so many people who are important to you to go away at one time,” she said, “and it must be terrifying.”
I realized that I was scared and furious at everyone for “leaving” me and perhaps I wanted to quit Mrs. Ehrlich before she could “quit” me for vacation.
What it all boiled down to was a feeling that I’m not loved: if Mrs. Ehrlich cared for me, the money wouldn’t matter, I felt, and she and Ronna and my parents would not be leaving.
Last week I was made to feel helpless and unloved – by myself, mostly – but Mrs. Ehrlich’s actions set the trigger, and I reacted just the way I would at home with my parents: with blind, steaming, childish rage.
Mrs. Ehrlich said she understood the emotions behind my outburst but could not condone it. We had and still have a contract, and I was not living up to my part. She could not condone my staying away from therapy for a week because her job is to help me understand myself, and I was trying to avoid that.
Mrs. Ehrlich and I pretty much straightened things out between us, and we talked about the next couple of weeks. She has no doubt that I’ll be able to cope but suggested I put some structure into my life.
I’m in a difficult position now, between two master’s programs, looking for work, on the threshold of moving out (or deciding to), and at times I feel helpless. But as I told Mrs. Ehrlich, “Any time you leave would be a bad time for me.”
I left her office and drove home in the dark, feeling so relieved, as if I had taken several much-needed deep breaths.
Debbie called, and she sounded fine; she’s just completed a chemistry course for nursing school and is doing virtually nothing. I told her I hoped we could get together soon.
During the night I had a very bad sinus headache, and the cold, rainy weather today didn’t help any. Ronna called this morning, “just to say I love you.”
Last night Ronna and I talked on the phone for over an hour, ironing out various things. I told Ronna that I was angry with her for leaving, but that I knew my anger was totally irrational. I figured if I told her that matter-of-factly, I would feel better and not try to make her feel guilty in so many little ways (“saving trading stamps,” her group therapy leader calls it).
Ronna said she knows it’s irrational, but she is very jealous of Mrs. Ehrlich. I tried to explain to her that just because I rely on therapy, it’s not a failing on her part, nor does it take away anything from our relationship.
So today I picked up Ronna at 1 PM and everything was really fine between us. She was in a good mood because yesterday’s interview had gone well although no position was available for her at this time.
We went to see Daisy Miller in Georgetown, then had pizza on Flatbush Avenue. Following that, I drove out to Rockaway and we walked along the boardwalk in the rain and got some books out of the Peninsula branch library.
I went up to her house when I dropped her off, but I left at 6 PM, before Susan was to come over to plan next week’s trip.
Friday, July 26, 1974
I just lowered the sound on the TV: the Judiciary Committee is debating various articles of impeachment. Different ploys, amendments and arguments are being tossed about, and it doesn’t look like they’ll come to a vote today.
Last night I fell asleep reading Fear of Flying. I like the way Erica Jong writes, but she raises an interesting point: if no fiction can compare with life in complexity, no characters can compare with real people, no plot – however confused – can compare with life’s “plot”. . . then why bother with fiction at all, except to protect the author’s good name?
I now intend to write “truthfully,” out of my own experience only – although Peter Spielberg feels that’s when authors tend to lie the most.
Anyway, a lot of stray thoughts and feeling have been surfacing lately. Last night, in a half-asleep state, I had this vision of Jerry and Shelli as my parents, celebrating their 25th anniversary.
The scene gave me a jolt and I wondered for a moment if in a sense if I didn’t make them into my parents – the old Oedipus game (is that why I never slept with Shelli again after learning that Jerry fucked her?) – and I could get angry at them in a way I never could with my real parents.
Also, I thought of Ivan’s similarity to my father; they both have that dark big-nosed Semitic handsomeness, extreme social poise, an interest in good clothes and quality products of any kind.
And in another dream, Ivan was married to Mom. Could some of my guilt and anger towards Ivan be left over from, as they say, “an unresolved oedipal situation”? And maybe that even made Ronna more attractive to me?
Speaking of Ronna, I went to dinner at her house last evening. She prepared veal parmigiana, spaghetti and salad for dinner, and it was very good.
I enjoyed it a lot, but to my embarrassment, I had an attack of diarrhea almost immediately following dinner. It was soon over, however – and I felt relieved to see that her brother had the same exact symptoms after eating her cooking.
We drove to Manhattan Beach when it was dark and we walked along the bay, crossing the foot bridge on Ocean Avenue, looking at the people fishing and the boats and smelling the sea air.
Sitting on a bench on Shore Boulevard, we necked furiously. It was exciting to do it in public, outdoors, for once. I think Ronna found my aggressiveness surprising but she responded with passion. She has the best tasting lips I’ve ever known (not that I’m an expert).
We returned to her house, where we did an interview for her mother and parted at midnight. It’s going to be lonely without Ronna while she’s away, but there’ll be the novelty of writing letters to each other.
Today was cool and hazy. In Rockaway, I visited Mikey and we sat on the porch for a couple of hours. I asked him how his job was going and he laughed the way people sometimes do when they’re feeling something deeply and said, “I hate it so much!”
His course at Queensborough is ending, and Mikey seems to be bored and tired from work. But he does have a girl he’s thinking of asking out: a 25-year-old teacher whose parents rent a bungalow on his block. He said first he has to think of someplace good to go to with her.
Mikey’s mother showed me her new Vitamin B6/Kelp/Lecithin/Cider Vinegar diet pills, and Mikey’s grandmother looks like death. Mikey told me that Marty and Ruth are having a party tomorrow night and perhaps I’ll go since they told him to invite me.
I inquired about various people, and Mikey said Alan Karpoff enjoyed Bolivia despite a hassle with the secret police, who thought he was smuggling money out of the country; Alan’s now working at a Vermont camp.
Allan Cooper is excited about moving to West 113rd Street next week, and Leon may return to New York and possibly unravel the mystery of what he’s been up to.
Sunday, July 28, 1974
Around 9 PM last night I arrived at Marty and Ruth’s house, and Marty ushered me into their backyard, where the party was in progress. Like me, everyone had been watching the impeachment hearings, but people managed to talk about other things.
First I went over to a bench where Mikey, Mike and Cindy were sitting. Cindy asked me where Ronna was, but most people there don’t know Ronna. I suppose I would have liked them to know that I have a girlfriend, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable going by myself.
I kissed Jill when she arrived. Having lost all that weight, she looks so much better. Bob and Casey were recounting their experiences at the bar exam this week; they took it together in Manhattan, Sharon said. She told me that Casey was a nervous wreck for weeks before the test.
Ruth was a delightful hostess; she’s the first person besides me that I’ve met that actually enjoyed Point Counter Point. Ruth and Marty are such hamishe people that they’re a joy to be around.
Bob and Estelle and Jill were discussing how great somebody named Jerry looked and how he was going to a Florida law school; my heart was beating fast until I realized the person they were talking about was not the Jerry I know.
Later, Bob asked me, “Do you still keep in touch with Shelli and Jerry, or are you not friendly anymore?” I stuttered something out, wondering why he didn’t know where they were. Then Don broke in and said he’d heard from Consuelo that Shelli and Jerry were traveling cross-country.
Don has gone through a metamorphosis: his beard is gone, his hair is long, and he was wearing overalls. He’s living in Stamford and working as a Legal Aid Society lawyer. That’s admirable; with his Harvard education, Don could have gone on to a big Wall Street firm and made a lot of money.
Joel was at the party, too: I will forever think of Joel as a house plan man, and when I told him that, he laughed. Julian, the guy who works for Dean Wiepert, also came, bringing his girlfriend.
Robert and I kidded Marty about being a slave-driver, expecting Alice to type up his thesis in just a week. Robert brought some girl to the party, and she seemed very nice.
Jill and I discussed therapy with Mike. Jill’s also still in therapy, and we were telling Mike, who plans to be a clinical psychologist, that it takes longer than six months to “cure” most patients.
I enjoyed some of a six-foot sandwich and drank plum wine as I chatted with Jill and Sharon. They talked about how they used to sublimate their personalities with their first boyfriends – Sharon went with Nathan, theKingsman cartoonist, for two years.
Jill loves her job at J. Walter Thompson, where she’s the ad agency’s film librarian; I told her she was making inroads for Women’s Liberation in her career.
We all left at 1 AM or so, after Ruth and Marty gave us all copies of their address in Syracuse. I said goodbye to everyone, most of whom I rarely see. It’s good to keep in touch with old friends and acquaintances.
This afternoon, in Rockaway, I drove past Vicky’s house and found her gardening outside. I said hello, asked her how her summer was going. She was friendly but asked, “Do I know you?”
Nervously, I got out of the car, said, “I’m Richie,” and shook her hand. She’s working as a secretary, she said, and asked me if I’d spoken to Ivan recently. I mentioned Davey and the Karpoff twins and told her about my thesis, and we both said how much we liked D.H. Lawrence. It was nice talking to Vicky: she’s cute and very friendly.
When Ivan came over, he was friendly but obviously surprised to see me. I didn’t want to intrude any more than I already had, so I excused myself after a couple of minutes.
Then I went back to Brooklyn to say goodbye to Ronna. Busy packing for the trip, she was a bit nervous but is excited about seeing Gloucester.
Her mother took us to see their new apartment, which is really nice; it’s on East 99th Street between Avenues K and L, still in Canarsie. Ronna and her sister will share the basement while Billy and their mother sleep upstairs (another family live on the middle floor), and they have a porch and a backyard.
Ronna and I said goodbye several dozen times until it became ridiculous because we kept wanting to go back for another hug.
Monday, July 29, 1974
The Judiciary Committee is now debating the second article of impeachment, abuse of power, and will vote on it within the hour. The first article, on obstruction of justice, passed 27-11 Saturday night. Six Republicans joined all the Democrats and now impeachment by the full House is all but certain.
Ronna should be in Gloucester by now; I wonder how her trip there went. Her grandmother drove her to Susan’s house in Manhattan soon after I left, and early this morning they took the train to Massachusetts. I miss her a little already.
Yesterday Ivan asked me if Ronna was camping out. I shrugged my shoulders and Vicky smilingly said, “You’d better check up on her,” the hint being that Ronna might do something I might not approve of: this I need from Ronna’s ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend?
But I like Vicky a lot. Ronna said she was “a doll” (she and Ivan met Vicky when Ivan was taking the bus to camp with her).
Although Avis and I met her that night years ago, we didn’t really talk. I’ve had fantasies before of knowing Vicky, and now that I’ve talked to her, it puts her in a frame of reference that is reality; I don’t have to wonder what she’s like anymore.
But back to Ronna: Did I deliberately not pay attention to her plans in order to virtually deny the fact of her trip altogether? We had such a trauma after her trip to Cape Cod last year; neither of us was sure of the other’s feelings.
Ronna said, though, that this year the separation will test our relationship to see if it’s not out of habit. She brought up the example of Ivan and Vicky and their long separations.
(I just realized the deeper meaning of one of many dreams I had last night. I dreamt that I was sitting in a restaurant, petting furiously with Stacy. Mikey was sitting opposite us, watching impassively, and I was afraid he would tell Ronna about it.
Of course, since Vicky and Stacy and also Ivan and Mikey all live within a few blocks of each other in Rockaway, it all makes sense. In the dream, Stacy was a stand-in for Vicky and Mikey was a stand-in for Ivan. I suppose my ego would be pleased if I stole Vicky from Ivan.)
I wonder if things will be different with Ronna moving into a new house in Canarsie. I’m so used to Ronna’s present apartment, the car ride there, the two flights of steps, the iron gate.
But this is a small change, and I have to adjust. Ronna’s mother will be paying $50 less for the apartment on the other side of Flatlands Avenue than what her present landlord raised their rent to and have more room.
Ronna’s a bit upset about the move; last evening, when her mom and I went into the basement to map out plans, Ronna just stayed out back. I saw her sitting on the swing amid the high, uncut grass, looking really sad.
I hugged her goodbye so many times that we laughed. “We both have a lot of separation anxiety,” I said.
Mrs. Ehrlich will be gone after tomorrow, and on Wednesday the family will be away and I’ll have the house to myself.
Gary called this evening to say he’d gotten a job as a teaching assistant at Columbia; he’ll get a tuition waiver and $1000. I told him I was happy for him, and in a way I am, but deep down, envy rages.
It’s not a very attractive emotion, but it’s there and I’m not going to deny it. I’d like a little recognition and some success for myself. I’ve all but given up hope on any of the stories I sent out being accepted for publication, so I’d better get to work on some more stuff.
And my thesis, my thesis: I tell everyone “I’m writing my M.A. thesis” (doesn’t that sound important?) but in reality I haven’t touched it in weeks. What a charming charlatan I am.