A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, August 11, 1974
It’s 1 AM and the house is completely still except for the ticking of clocks, the hum of the refrigerator, and a few other stray noises.
Ronna should be coming home tomorrow. I was hoping she’d call today, but I didn’t hear from her. This afternoon I called her sister, who said Ronna hadn’t called home, either, but she expected her back on Monday. It will be good to see her again.
I believe this two-week separation was a good thing for both of us. At the very least, we know we can function fairly well without each other. As for the future of our relationship – well, let’s just take things as they come.
I am coming to the point in my own life where I can visualize the way I want to live, and you know something? I’m not as far from my goal as I usually think that I am.
This evening I finally got through to Mara, who had spent the day in Rockaway. She and Phyllis went over to Stacy’s house this morning and they all went to the beach to take advantage of the nice weather.
Phyllis, Mara reported, is preparing to go to law school in Washington, and Stacy is still working for Brenda Brown at Brooklyn College. Mara herself is working two days a week for Senator Javits and is off from Alexander’s until Labor Day because she and Karin and another girl are preparing to go to Cape Cod.
We talked about Nixon’s resignation: she, Helen and Frank went out to Baskin-Robbins to celebrate after the announcement last week. I asked Mara if she wanted to go to the movies, and she said okay, but by the time I got to her house in Sheepshead Bay, she said that Melvin had called and said we should meet him at South Street Seaport.
That sounded like a lot more fun than the movies, so we took off for Manhattan. On theway there, we talked of various things. She told me Josh’s roommate Robbie, who was her friend in high school, once wanted to be a rabbi, and she expressed her worries about taking the GRE’s. Mara is still going with Eric, who got accepted to NYU’s dental school.
We got to the pier, where the Bluegrass and Old Time Music Contest was already underway. We found Elayne, Melvin, and his friend David Beckerman – whom I’d never met, but who looked familiar – on a big blanket in the rear of the crowd.
We settled down to listen to the finals in the battle of the bands (and individual singers). It was getting cool, so I took off my flannel shirt and gave it to Mara to put on while I wrapped myself in a beach towel we’d brought; Elayne used a bedspread to cover herself.
Despite the cool breezes, it was nice, sitting out there, looking at the stars and the water and the boats and the flashing lights from the Cocoa Exchange and the time and temperature on the Watchtower in Brooklyn Heights, and of course listening to the country music. Melvin and David brought us hot chocolate.
During intermission, Elayne and I discussed mutual acquaintances. Elihu, she says, “has grown very freaky” and has “lost all his repressions.” When I inquired about just what Elihu was into lately, she said cryptically, “You’ll have to ask Elihu.”
Elayne didn’t seem surprised to hear what Libby told me about Jerry’s being “into” homosexuality, and it seemed like she already knew – and that there was more she wasn’t telling me.
Elayne also said she’d renewed her friendship with Avis’s sister Ellen, who’s still living on West End Avenue and waiting to hear about teaching jobs.
At 10 PM, the music over, we headed for Brooklyn, to meet at David’s apartment near the college. His parents are moving to Florida soon, so he just got the place; it’s a very nice apartment, and David is a very nice guy.
He’s youngish-looking, a bit freaky. His parents were in Auschwitz, his brother’s a medical illustrator – I saw his drawings of colons and tumors – and David loves Israel.
David and Melvin played chess while I thumbed through a book of Salvador Dali paintings and Mara and Elayne chatted. Melvin and Elayne seem to like their apartment – the one next to door to Libby, Clay and Neil – and Melvin’s been making a good salary working at Wall Street Camera.
Melvin did clear up one mystery (at least it was a mystery to me): he thinks Slade went with Larry to Australia to try out living there for a while.
It was such a pleasant evening, sitting and talking quietly: one of the really good times of a summer filled with nice times. It was after midnight when I took Mara home. It’s beautiful out now.
Wednesday, August 14, 1974
Midnight. I feel content, but there are questions that trouble me. The foremost seems to be: Am I a child or a man, or am I condemned to live a life between those two stages?
Last night I went downstairs and saw a whole pineapple in the refrigerator. I decided to cut it open so I could eat some slices and was about to begin when I heard Mom’s footsteps coming downstairs.
As old as I am, my heart still skips a beat and I feel enormously guilty (the way I did with the car on Monday).
I told her straight off, “I’m cutting open a pineapple.”
“I’ll do it,” she said and moved intently toward me. I moved away, she grabbed for the knife and I threatened her with it (while I was angry, I had no intention of hurting her, of course).
She grabbed my arm and bit into it with her capped teeth. I shook her away and sliced the pineapple as she muttered about wanting me out of the house.
Apparently she didn’t see the contradiction in a 23-year-old being capable of living alone but not being able to slice a pineapple.
No, I guess she knows that if she takes away my manhood in so many little ways – today, when I took out the TV without asking her permission, she yelled, “Why did you disobey me?” Does she still think I’m seven years old or will she forever be a parent and not a person? – she’s got me where she wants me: in her control.
Yet I realize my complicity in all of this: I am still living at home, after all, and I did allow her to bite my hand. In truth, it was a not unpleasant feeling. So here I am, sitting in a childish Oedipusville . . .
But tonight with Ronna, I was a man relating to a woman who loves me on an adult level. Ronna came over early this evening after an interview at her mother’s office, where she’ll be working next week. We went outside by the pool as the sun set red and powder blue, and we talked of books and linguistics and little things.
Judy called her today and spoke of Elton John and his manager, whom she loves, and inquired after Scott. Ronna’s Uncle Abe, the brilliant doctor, has left his equally brilliant wife, Aunt Margie, for a young Asian med student in one of his classes. He’s left their apartment and moved in with the girl into a Soho loft.
Abe’s the one at the seder who told Susan that Erica Jong “has gone commercial”; apparently he knows her because her husband is a medical colleague. I told Ronna how Alice and Andreas were in Little Italy when she spotted Erica Jong and her husband on the street and she went over and got my library copy of Fear of Flyingautographed.
I just enjoyed looking at Ronna. She’s gotten a more mature look, a prettier face, since I’ve known her. I think that at 35 or so, she’s going to be absolutely beautiful.
We went upstairs to my room and watched TV. I enjoyed hearing Carly Simon singing “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” All my friends from college aregetting married now, soon to have children who’ll hate them because of what they are not, and settling down to years of living on the debris of love.
Everyone likes to think what they have is special and not like what anyone else has, but I’m aware enough to realize that Ronna and are not breaking any new ground with our relationship – but still, it’s so good.
The laugh of the evening was when Fern knocked on the door and asked if I had a hole-puncher (for her brother, who was downstairs); I leered Groucho-style and said, “Do I have a hole puncher?”
We all laughed; I like my brother’s girlfriend a lot.
Then, left alone, Ronna and I made slow, steady love. I had missed her body, the roundness of her breasts, the whiteness of her belly, her underarm, navel and the hairs on the nape of her neck.
It was a really fine sexual release for both of us. I feel so free with Ronna, free to be myself and to laugh and joke and be sad. The bed squeaked so, but we didn’t much care.
We talked and watched TV and read in bed afterwards, and I took her home a little while ago. With her, I feel I can really accomplish something in this world.
Friday, August 16, 1974
We’re halfway through August. In a few weeks, Labor Day will arrive, the school term starts, and the summer ends. This summer hasn’t exactly been an adventurous one for me, and in many ways I feel I’ve failed myself.
I failed to find a job, I haven’t written my thesis, and I haven’t gone anywhere outside the city. But perhaps I need this one last summer before becoming an adult. That might be bullshit, though, for what should I say of last summer or the summer before that?
Yet, in a way, this dissatisfaction, this rootlessness, might be a valuable thing. I think of my retarded ejaculations during lovemaking and wonder if these sometime occurrences don’t have a deeper meaning: I get excited, I go through the motions, but I have trouble bringing things to a successful conclusion.
Doesn’t that apply to my life in general? Still, you get there in the end, of course. I remember at the conclusion ofA Modern Comedy, after Soames dies in the fire and his son-in-law Michael realizes that Fleur has had an affair with her cousin Jon, Galsworthy has Michael say: “It’s pretty hard sometimes to remember that it’s all comedy; but one gets there, you know.”
Now I realize that Galsworthy is a minor writer in comparison to Joyce, Lawrence and Woolf, but sometimes it is minor talents who have the sharpest eye for detail.
That’s how I’d like to be known one day, as a polished minor talent. I write well, but I don’t have the makings of a great writer – I know that.
Still, I can make some contribution, and as long as I have to write, I might as well be successful, even if only in a minor way. It’s gotten to the point of that old cliché: I don’t know whether I live to write or I write to live.
It’s curious how some things, some people, stay with you. In the shower a little while ago, I found myself singing “Brainchild California,” the song that Stacy wrote and sang. I liked it a lot.
The first lines went:
I had a brainchild California
Keen-eyed sapphire and seagull free
One day the sky above had torn her
Now I have a patch of wooden memories
Stacy wrote that song about Eleanor, her therapist, and it’s odd how it expresses the way I miss my sessions with Mrs. Ehrlich.
Last night I dreamed that Jonny had left a message that Shelli had called. I was joyous, not because I wanted to speak with her, but because she needed me, years after dumping me for Jerry. Maybe I even miss those silent calls she used to make.
And today, leafing through my phone book, I found Brad’s number. On impulse, I dialed it. I knew he wouldn’t be home; I just wanted to hear his voice on the answering device.
Of course there are people in my present. Allan phoned from work this morning, asking if I wanted to go with him to see a free movie at Grant’s Tomb. I told him that tonight Ronna and I were planning to seeThat’s Entertainment! at Kings Plaza.
He was disappointed, as he had previously called Mikey, who said he wanted to take it easy at home tonight. Allan and I agreed that Mikey should go out more, but to Allan, “going out” means hanging out with a group of people; Allan doesn’t seem to like one-to-one, male/female relationships.
Allan said how great living up by Columbia is, but I think he protests too much; I would be lonely if I were him, alone in a new neighborhood.
I went to Brooklyn College at 1 PM and by chance saw Ronna and Susan, who had made up to eat lunch there. It was strange seeing Ronna unexpectedly like that. Robert came by, saying he had been just looking for me to join him for lunch.
As Robert and I were going to Campus Corner, I told Ronna we’d try to get to Kings Plaza early tonight, as the crowds will be huge. Robert and Alice saw the movie last week, and they both loved it.
Over hamburgers, Robert told me that Mike stopped showing up for the history course he’s teaching, and Robert said he’s going to give him an “Absent” grade if doesn’t start attending. I figure that Mike will get Hilary or one of the other deans to fix everything up for him; it’s kind of a shame, but that’s the way the world works.
Robert is excited about going to London to work on his dissertation; he’ll be living there all year, from September to June, and graciously invited me to come anytime and stay with him. It’s an offer worth considering: London in winter sounds very inviting.
Robert helped Elayne move and said her apartment is roomy. He had a disastrous experience with a roommate and hopes Elayne gets along better with Melvin, whom he really doesn’t know. I assured him Melvin is a really nice person.
We joked about various things: Robert’s really a fine person and not at all a snob. He told me he’s getting contact lenses and think it will change his outlook (no pun intended). Maybe I should investigate contact lenses, too.
Robert went off to lie about his income in order to get a credit card, and I found Ronna and Susan on a bench in front of LaGuardia. They got their diplomas, which look like mine from last year, except Susan’s is “summa cum laude” and Ronna’s is plain.
(Today I finally received my Phi Beta Kappa key in the mail. On Sunday, I realized it hadn’t arrived yet, and Mara said that Phyllis and Stacy hadn’t gotten theirs, either. It’s a tiny thing, the key, nice to have – but of course I won’t wear it.)
Susan starts her classes at Rutgers soon; I’m sure graduate school will be a snap for her. After Susan went to the subway to go home to Manhattan, I persuaded Ronna to let me drive her home.
She said Felicia has to have minor gynecological surgery to remove a lump; she’ll go into the hospital next week.
While I was out, Scott called. So I guess he’s back in town, at least temporarily before he goes to law school in Washington. Jonny told me Scott said not to call him until tomorrow, but I’m not sure whether to phone the Manhattan apartment or his parents’ house.
Sunday, August 18, 1974
I said hello and goodbye to Scott this evening. After I took Ronna home, I went over to Scott’s parents’ house at 8 PM. He was loading up his car for the trip down to Washington tomorrow.
His mother’s condition after the heart attack is very good; she was sitting up in bed at the hospital, complaining and doing crossword puzzles.
Scott’s father was wandering around the house, looking for something to do. I guess it’s a really bad time for Scott to be leaving, with his father alone in the house. “He’ll be eating Chinese food every night,” Scott said.
Scott enjoyed his trip, although tensions existed among everyone and he had to “humor” Sheila for the past three weeks “because she can be overbearing.”
He got badly bitten by a dog while visiting Willette on the Navajo reservation; luckily, it had just gotten rabies shots the previous week, but he showed me the bad scar on his stomach. Scott was annoyed at the blasé reaction of Willette and her relatives and plans to talk to Avis about discontinuing their support of her.
In Tijuana, he got drunk with a bunch of Mexican boys and went with them to a whorehouse; in Los Angeles, he visited his 106-year-old grandfather; and generally, he had a good time on the trip.
Scott’s scared about the next two weeks: finding a place in Washington and getting settled at law school. I certainly can understand his apprehension.
This afternoon, Scott said, he had a bad time with Sheila when they said goodbye. Apparently she cried a lot, but Scott said he “felt nothing” and “couldn’t dredge up emotion that didn’t exist.”
We smoked some hash and then watched a Western on TV; as I left, Scott said he’d send me his new address in Washington when he was settled.
Earlier, on my way to Ronna’s this afternoon, I noticed Kjell and Sharon arriving at his parents’ house down the block, so I stopped and said hello. At first Sharon didn’t recognize me, but then she came over and kissed me.
I admired Alison, now one year old. “Isn’t she the cutest baby you ever saw?” Kjell’s mother asked me, and I said yes, she certainly was (she’s all-right-looking).
Kjell said he’s got his masters in clinical psych and is now working at Downstate. The state will pay for his doctoral program, but he wanted to take off a year and just work.
He’s thinking they should move to a place where he could open up an office; I can’t see Kjell treating patients, but he seems to know his limitations.
Kjell said he’s really not interested in seeing Gary again – of course I wouldn’t tell this to Gary – because all Gary does when he calls Kjell up is brag about his academic successes and the Columbia professors he’s “in” with.
Kjell feels Gary is an “ass-kisser”: “And he still talks in convoluted jargon.” As I left, Kjell told me to give him a call one of these days, but he didn’t mean it.
Ronna was upset when I picked her up and brought her back to my house. Her mother has been yelling at her because she’s a slob, and we talked about it. Ronna was feeling pretty down, so I tried to cheer her up. She wants to take a ballet course at the New School, and I think she’ll enjoy that.
We went upstairs to bed and made love; I came and enjoyed it, and so did she, but it was slightly mechanical. Wanting to get closer to her, I made a gesture: I read her parts of my diary, parts which referred to her.
That led us to talking about our whole relationship and the rough times that we’ve had. We made love again, this time with more feeling, more joy. After she had come, we began humping again, and I said, “This one’s a freebie,” meaning that we had both had our orgasms already.
Ronna broke up, laughing hysterically, and then so did I; it was a great moment. We lay in bed, me in my cutoff jeans and she in her red bathing suit (originally we’d planned to go swimming), feeling nice and peaceful.
She made supper for us – soup and scrambled eggs – and I took her home to get ready for work tomorrow. Ronna is really worth it all.
When I got home from Scott’s tonight, Vito called. He said that yesterday he went to the movies with his mother and stood through the entire Great Gatsby because he still finds it painful to sit for any length of time.
Vito, too, received a letter from Avis after he wrote her; I wonder why she hasn’t written me lately. Avis gave no response to Vito’s telling her the story of my encounter with her mother; Avis just wrote that she was bored and considering bestiality.
Vito’s osteopath told him he couldn’t help anymore, so now Vito’s considering a visit to another doctor. He spends his days watching game shows and old movies, reading Carson McCullers, and visiting the college.
I think Mike is angry with me because Vito also told Mike to attend Robert’s class. Perhaps Mike feels that I’m telling all my friends to tell him to “be a good boy.”
Vito said that Joey went as an escort to Nancy at a wedding, and he hated it so much that he had diarrhea, which Vito says is a common complaint with Joey. I suppose a guy who’s always the life of the party has to let down his guard somewhere, and no one else can peek into the toilet bowl.