A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Tuesday, August 20, 1974
There are times when I wonder just what the important experiences and feelings in one’s life are. Are they our dreams?
Last night I had several dreams. One was extremely erotic: Costas and I were having sex with Debbie and Teresa, switching partners all the time, screwing as we floated down a stream in Prospect Park. A Nazi POW was also floating about, getting his only exercise of the day.
Then I had a dream where things kept keeping me from getting to a test at college in time (a very common dream); another dream in which I watched Ivan on TV, running for state senator (I was very jealous that he’d gotten his law degree and deprecated his chances by telling Ronna that Ivan’s father had paid for his campaign); and one dream in which I met Alice in a deserted Kings Plaza and was about to take her to Kennedy Airport when I had to make a call – to Alice.
Maybe world events are more important than dreams: just as I awoke from the last dream, on TV President Ford was naming Rockefeller as Vice President.
Maybe it’s other things that are most important: Driving down Flatbush Avenue today, I saw a completely naked man running down the street, being followed by a siren-screaming police car. I watched as the cops handcuffed the laughing streaker.
That seemed like out of a dream, it was so absurd.
Also today, I felt absurd when I went to Avenue L, where Marc used to work for Gem TV. Several people stopped me, saying “How ya doin’, Marc?” or “What’s new, Marc?” I guess we do look alike. For a moment I doubted my own identity.
Last night, after I left Josh and Robbie, I went over to Rockaway to see Grandma Ethel for a little while, just long enough for me to have some carrot cake and gossip.
Grandma Ethel said that Grandma Sylvia is walking fairly well, but now that she’s out of the hospital and alone most of the day, she gets depressed about things, like Robin’s divorce. Robin refuses to let Aunt Sydelle see Michael because she questions the boy about Robin’s activities and Joel’s, too.
“I’m not supposed to tell you this,” Grandma Ethel said, but she confided in me that Grandma Sylvia told her that Aunt Sydelle, feeling sick herself, consulted a psychologist, who told her to stop alienating Robin.
Then Grandma Ethel said cryptically, “I think there’s things going on with your cousin Robin that even your grandmother doesn’t know about.” Something is weird.
Today Josh and I intended to bike to Marine Park, but he noticed my tires were low, and so we went to a gas station and filled them up. Josh also put air in his front tire – too much,apparently, for it exploded.
I admired the way Josh took it: he was so rational, telling me to ride back home, pick up the car and fetch him and then we’d go to the nearest bike store. Life can be lived without the traumas of our own making.
We bought a new inner tube and Josh put it on, and by the time everything was finished, it was late and we had to go back to his apartment so he could meet Paul.
Paul is in Robbie’s band. He’s 31 and just broke up with his wife last night. Pat, Paul’s wife, is a sister of John, who’s also in the band, which complicates things further in a way that sounds like one of my soap operas.
Paul turned out to be a long-haired, mustached guy. Over coffee, Paul told Robbie, Josh and me that in the twelve years he and Pat were married, there was “good shit, bad shit and medium shit.”
Over the years they tried marriage encounters and counseling, but after a scene last night on the highway – his wife got out of the car while it was doing 50 mph – they decided they’d better split up. So Josh and Robbie have their third roommate.
When I went over to Ronna’s this evening, I found her in a bathrobe, just getting up. She was exhausted from a long day of work yesterday; the office was busy every minute.
I told her about my day, and how, earlier, when I said goodbye to Robbie – he’s going to Vermont for a few days – he said he wanted to meet Ronna “so I could get a mental picture of her” because I talk about her so much.
We went into her bedroom, which was a mess. I started criticizing her about it and she got angry. What most bothered Ronna was that I was deliberately trying to bait her. And I was.
We bickered for a while, getting knots in our stomachs and tears in our eyes as we said sarcastic things to one another. We realized we could never live together: I’m Mr. Clean and she’s a slob, so we’re a regular Odd Couple.
When we locked ourselves in the bathroom together to talk it out, I came to the realization that I was angry with her because I really hadn’t wanted to come over tonight and did it just to please her.
We hugged, and Ronna said, “After all, we haven’t fought in a long time,” and I said that our fights always end with better communications. At least she doesn’t get out of the car when I’m speeding on the Belt Parkway.
Ronna and Sue spoke with their mother, who’s away in Montauk, while I lay on Ronna’s bed amidst the mess until I didn’t mind it a bit anymore. In fact, I asked to spend the night, saying it wasn’t a gesture, that I really wanted to.
But Ronna said she’d never get her needed sleep for work tomorrow if I stayed over, so I left. Sue’s friend Elise was sleeping over, and I felt good when Elise said she would have felt safer with me there all night.
I still did want to make some gesture to Ronna – besides hugs and kisses – so I walked the dog before I left. It was nice.
Thursday, August 22, 1974
Talking last night after the fracas with Aunt Sydelle, Mom said I was too “deep” and looked into things too much, causing unhappiness.
In the hospital Grandma Sylvia told Cousin Robin the same thing.
But I don’t think I’m particularly “deep,” whatever that means. Maybe I’m more intelligent than most people and maybe I perceive undertones others do not.
For a while last night, stung by Dad’s remarks (“Therapy hasn’t helped you at all. You’re lazy and immature,” etc.), I thought of going off somewhere and locking myself in a Holiday Inn room (I have a credit card there) and not telling anyone where I was for days.
That sounds so nice: only I would know where I was. And I’d just think about my life and write and come to a decision about whether to go on, and how to proceed, living.
In the face of questioning your whole existence, so much of the pettiness in life seems meaningless: things like mixed marriages and political campaigns and fights over cleaning up. Am I a human being or merely a collection of symptoms?
The basic story behind Robin and Drew (that’s the black guy) is this: For quite a while, Robin didn’t want her mother to phone or visit. So Aunt Sydelle figured something like this was up. She kept calling Joel at the place to pump him for information, but he didn’t feel it was right to tell her his ex-wife’s business.
But then Michael said, “My mommy’s going with a black man” (actually he’s half-white), and last night there was a big confrontation at Robin’s house, with screaming and pleading and threats and insults, and then Aunt Sydelle was frantic and told Monty to drive her here. I shouldn’t have started screaming at her for being so racist but it infuriated me.
Today Mom called up Robin and tried to, as she said, “get the whole story.” Mom feels that Robin’s doing this merely to hurt Aunt Sydelle. That could be true, but isn’t there the possibility of genuine love? Dad says that Robin’s track record makes that unlikely. Anyway, from here on in, I’m an innocent bystander in this affair.
I felt better this morning after a night’s sleep and a hundred pages of Philip Roth’s latest novel, My Life as a Man: he’s such a superb craftsman, always brilliant.
Today, at Brooklyn College, I got my registration materials for the fall and I’m happily facing the reality of being in the MFA program. I register two weeks from tonight and I can’t wait.
I met Gary after encounters with the dumb but well-meaning John Sweeney and the love-struck Elise. Gary and I had lunch in Kosher King, where I told him all about the trauma in my family with my cousin living with a black man.
Gary is happy with the job at school but he now dislikes Columbia; he seems really disillusioned about the same professors and program he used to brag about. What’s making him really happy these days that he’s getting closer with Kay, who was over at his house last night.
We ran into Josh, whom I introduced to Gary. They talked, and it was funny to see two such diverse personalities interact.
Before I knew it, Ronna popped up to surprise me, and she joined Gary, Josh and me at the table. Her boss told her to leave work early, as things were very quiet at the office.
The four of us were talking about the difficulty of finding jobs when Stacy and Timmy approached from opposite directions. They passed us without saying hello although each of them knew each of us. However, I noticed that they did wave half-heartedly to each other.
Josh and I left the others went up to the English Department to try to find Baumbach, but we had no luck. After dropping Josh off at his apartment, I went over to Ronna’s, who was excited because her sister had gotten word that she’d passed her road test.
We made very warm love lying sideways on her bed. The angle was so good, I really felt smooth and clean. We kept answering phone calls from her mother’s boyfriends until finally Mrs. C came home and made us cheeseburgers for dinner.
Ronna said that at work she’s been looking at the clock a lot lately, wanting time to move faster. It’s probably because she doesn’t like what she’s doing, I said.
Saturday, August 24, 1974
Just before going to Ronna’s house last night, I had diarrhea and so we decided to cancel our plans to go to Manhattan: no trauma. While her mother was out, Ronna took a call from a boyfriend of her mother’s, a guy named Oscar.
While I was there on Thursday, he also called and he kept Ronna on the phone for half an hour with various nonsense. Last night he started out by asking her if she was with a boy or a man. (The day before he had told her that she should only go out with guys who can afford her to take her to the most expensive places.)
Then the guy went into a whole lecture about how she should wear her contact lens; I could see Ronna getting visibly agitated, but she was polite to the man for her mother’s sake.
After she finally hung up with him, though, she threw an Ajax spray across the room, breaking the glass. I didn’t say a word and quietly went over to pick up the pieces; then I said her anger was justified and let her express it.
Ronna says all the guys her mother goes out with come on, like that liar Hiram did, as ready-made daddies, offering unwanted paternal guidance. After some tea and TV-watching, we went to the movies; the line at Georgetown was enormous, so we went to Flatbush Avenue again.
Again I was pleased that what once might have led me to have a temper tantrum – the long line – now only caused me to think quickly of alternatives. We saw the late show of Buster and Billie at the Kings and enjoyed it pretty much: it was not fantastic, but it was a good movie to curl up with on a Friday night.
Afterwards, around midnight, we came back to my house, joining Dad for a late snack; he was cheating on his diet for the first time in a week.
When we went outside by the pool – things were pretty damp and muggy, and she felt I was being obnoxious (something I didn’t realize until later) – I bent over and kissed her. “It’s too cool for a swim,” I said.
So we went inside to the basement, both knowing what was coming next. She was wearing a white dress, and I could see her legs, which were so white and smooth and creamy.
I cleared away the couch, making it into a bed, and I lay on top of her, moving steadily. She didn’t want to take off her dress, but even so, I could touch her vagina; she flinched ever so slightly when I began kissing it and probing with my tongue. I think we were both a little surprised at liking it so much.
Soon after that, Ronna came to a climax. Maybe it is being a male chauvinist pig, but I like making her come.
I felt a little uncomfortable when I heard Mom upstairs, rattling around in the kitchen the way she does when she has insomnia, but we turned on the TV to a loud David Bowie concert to block out the noise.
(I wonder if Mom does it on purpose, or unconsciously, or if there’s nothing more to it than her wanting to eat something in the middle of the night.)
Ronna took my penis out of my underwear and played with it, feeling it in different ways. “You’re my first [penis],” she told me. I put it in her vagina, through our underwear, and I felt the waves of orgasm surfacing.
It was good; so close together did we come that we had to be alone for a while afterwards, I think, to regain the sense of being an individual. She watched a movie while I looked through old records. Just feeling each other’s nearby presence was enough.
If I’m making this sound too Romantic, it’s not: Ronna can get angry and kvetchy and I can be obnoxious and ornery. We’re flesh-and-blood humans, and that’s what makes it wonderful: the fact that we – two very different people – can work hard and make love work, if only for this particular point in time.
At 4 AM, I took her home, and although I wasn’t tired, I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow – a rarity for me – and woke up feeling refreshed this afternoon.
I got a card from Alice today: Stuttgart is quaint and hot, Strasbourg was sweltering, and they had hail in Bavaria. She’s now in Paris, loving it.
Monday, August 26, 1974
This has been one of those days that one walks through blindly, waiting for tomorrow to come. Last night, before I went to bed, I felt a decided twinge in my right shoulder and neck.
When I awoke at midnight, the pain had gotten much worse: I could hardly move my head, and when I tried to change positions, I got paroxysms of pain so great that I had to moan involuntarily.
I heard Jonny cry out from his room, “What’s the matter?” but I said, “Nothing. Go back to sleep.” Somehow I slept, but my dreams were all of pain: in one, Dad refused to believe that my neck hurt as much as it did.
When I finally awoke late this morning, the situation had gone back to what it had been last night: a twinge, a feeling that something had “snapped” and had to somehow solidify again.
But I could move around much better, so I went over to Vito’s house at noon because it had been such a long time since I’d seen him and I wanted to find out how he was.
Vito looked okay although he said his back was in bad shape because of the muggy, cool, rainy weather. He’s still a bit of a stay-at-home, although on Saturday night, he went to a farewell party for Helen, who left today for Los Angeles.
Nancy is angry at Joey for not wearing a tie to that wedding that he escorted her to and things like that, and now the two of them aren’t talking to each other for a while – but I’m sure that will change. Vito said lately Joey has been acting so strangely, you’d think he was going through menopause.
I watched Vito make this horrible concoction out of four eggs, tons of cheese and garlic, and four slices of bread and bacon. How he downed that stuff is a mystery to me.
We watched a couple of soap operas, and Vito said he’d go seeBuster and Billie if Jan-Michael Vincent took off his shirt often enough in the course of the film. Remembering his chest from some of the scenes in the movie, I said he probably did.
Stopping next door by the Panzerino office where Vito’s mother works for her father and brothers, we picked up her OTB bets for the day – “I thought you’d abandoned us,” Mrs. LoGiudice said – and we went to the Junction, where Vito took some money out of the Flatbush Federal bank.
We ran into Robert, who had his class’s final exams with him. Robert said he also got a card from Alice in Paris. I had two slices of pizza while Vito consumed calzone and 80¢ worth of Italian ices. Then I dropped him off at home, gracefully declining his invitation to see a photo of a man with a 13-inch penis.
My car died in front of my house, but thank God I have a mechanical brother like Marc. He deduced the trouble was corroded wires; we bought new wires, and after Marc did the difficult job of replacing them, the car started again. I admire Marc’s mechanical abilities so: I can hardly use a hammer or screwdriver.
Gary called. He’s very involved with both his work with Prof. Beveridge and his relationship with Kay. Her parents sound very strict: they refused to let Kay go to Cape Cod with a girlfriend, offering lame excuses like, “This is a crazy world, anything canhappen.”
Kay’s parents forbid her to go to Gary’s home when his parents are away, and Kay can’t lie to them. “What do they think I am, some kind of sex maniac?” Gary said. Like all parents, Kay’s sound as if they’re great at dispensing guilt.
Ronna called, saying she’d had an interview for an editorial assistant position at Esquire today; they said they’d let her know by tomorrow.
Thursday, August 29, 1974
Tonight I’ve got my journalistic cap on. At times it’s good for me to stop my self-analysis and probing and instead concentrate on being an observer of the human condition.
When I was little, I always wanted to be, not the leading characters in movies or TV shows, but the supporting characters, those to whom nothing happened, the ones who merely commented on the protagonists’ situations: the whole I Am a Camera bit.
Last night I picked up Ronna after the thunderstorm abated. She looked pretty and fresh. Her sister was going out with last year’s boyfriend Harris; Sue told Ronna that he’s changed and he kisses better now.
Ronna also told me a secret: that Felicia’s brother (he of the streaking and the tattoo) propositioned her sister, who was impressed when he told her he’s become a hedonist. Ronna says that her sister’s really happy having lost weight, and Ronna wants to drop some pounds too.
I drove Ronna to this house in East Flatbush to pick up something for her mother; then we went on to the Heights, to walk along Montague Street. We straightened a lot out: Ronna did say that I make it difficult for her to tell me when she’s angry, which is what I figured.
And she’s jealous of my family’s financial position and my lack of responsibility in that area, something I can readily understand.
We came back to my house to watch the news and chat. I mentioned seeing Howie from the window of the 42nd Street bus last week, and Ronna said that he’s become very nervous. He and his girlfriend are moving in together; Felicia says that the girl would like to leave Howie but is afraid he’d kill himself if she did – all of which may be wishful thinking on Felicia’s part.
Susan’s novel is complete – she finished it on the cruise to Europe with her mother – and I’d like to read it. I hear from Ronna that I’m satirized in it: shades of Lawrence and Huxley!
In the kitchen, Ronna and I found the announcement of the birth of Dad’s partner Lennie’s sister’s child; the sister’s married to a Monticello trotters rider, and the announcement was so stupid, saying “New Foal: Jennifer Mara; Mare: Karen; Stallion: Jorge.” That whole family is crazy.
After taking Ronna home, I lay awake thinking. I had a crazy thought about Jerry’s marrying Shelli and then being gay: maybe he went out with Shelli as a way of getting sexually close to me, maybe he liked me and was too repressed at the time to go to me directly – not that I was ever attracted to him, as he’s not my type.
Anyway, could that be a reason for Jerry’s hatred of me? No, I guess that was an off-the-wall idea.
This afternoon I was lying on the beach at Rockaway right by the water, reading Doris Lessing. Lee passed with two friends; he came over and shook hands (I almost made a faux pas and shook ‘regular’ instead of ‘cool-soul-hip’; it’s such a problem these days).
Lee was working at a camp this summer and goes back to Hofstra Law soon. He asked if I see the Kingsman crowd, and I said, “Mostly just Ronna.” I almost didn’t recognize Lee, as it’s been years since I’ve seen him without a beard or mustache.
After Lee left, just a few minutes later, Carl Karpoff came by in the opposite direction. This time I shook hands correctly, and he sat down. Carl got back just this morning from the Canadian Rockies and said it was beautiful.
He’s been studying dance this summer with June Lewis – I nodded, having vaguely heard of the choreographer’s name – and he’s managing the AYH (American Youth Hostel) store, a job he’ll probably give up.
Carl said his brother’s still away in the White Mountains, and that he, Carl, is thinking of subletting the Bethune Street Village apartment of some lady dancer. He had to rush off to take his ailing dog to the vet.
I wrote Lillian Hellman a nice note after reading her book of portraits, Pentimento. More and more, I know what I want to be: my ambition is to be the golden boy of American letters, or failing that, a “minor talent” in the fields of fiction, essays and criticism.
My one area of ambition is literary. I know now that I can’t see myself as an English professor and scholar – not if that means writing criticism criticizing others’ criticism.
Graduate study in English can be difficult for anyone who really loves literature. Everyone forgets that the books or poems we now revere as though they were written by God were once mere pieces of “creative writing,” just like mine.
I’ve gotten some of my ideas from Jon Baumbach and some from Doris Lessing’s introduction to The Golden Notebook, but mostly I’ve been feeling this way for a long time.
Of course I’m taking a gamble, becoming a writer, because there are so many boring failed artists around.