A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Friday, September 20, 1974
Yesterday, when I went to the Counseling office to see Prof. Baumbach for our Fiction Tutorial, the door was locked. I waited outside until Julian Kaye told me that Prof. Spielberg sometimes locks the door even though he’s inside.
So I knocked, and Spielberg indeed was there, along with Merritt, Mayers and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer (who’s very fat, by the way). Spielberg told me, in his usual offhand nasty manner, that Baumbach wasn’t coming in.
Later, Baumbach arrived at our Fiction Workshop in a self-described “pissy” mood. He apologized to me for missing our tutorial; he had to observe a teacher at the last minute.
Baumbach was upset because they had gone over his head and placed a woman (Dorothy?) in the Poetry Workshop rather than in Fiction, leaving us with six people, one of whom has mono (Denis, who called me last night to tell me that he was sick; I still wonder why Denis decided to call me when he has the number of everyone in the class).
Baumbach threated to quit as Director of the MFA Program, but later said he had been talking out of frustration and anger.
We read a story by Simon, “So Beautiful from the Back,” which I thought charming – but no one else in the class, except for Baumbach, agreed with me. Actually, besides Josh, I think that Simon is the best person in the program – as a person, that is.
Barbara is more affected and obnoxious than ever, and the married guy, Todd, seems rather dull: Josh has dubbed him “The Babe,” because of his remarkable resemblance to Babe Ruth.
In the evening, we endured another one of Miss Heffernan’s American Lit classes – she expects everyone to be as well-read as she – and then Josh and I walked in the dark to his house and my car.
On the way, we met Mara, whom I drove home; she was coming back from work at Senator Javits’ office and was very tired. Mara said they had Eric over for Rosh Hashona dinner and her mother kept making veiled references as to what a wonderful wife Mara would make some lucky dentist.
When I got home, I called Ronna; it seemed like ages since I’d seen her. She’d told me about her job interview at ARCO Publishers, in their publicity department, and how they’ve narrowed down the choice to her and another woman.
Yesterday Ronna was also at Brooklyn College and she said she was pleased to see Maddy there; Sid hugged her and told her that because of Carrie, he’s given up getting stoned while Carrie’s given up biting her nails. (Ronna said, “You can tell Sid’s been going out with someone because he’s a better kisser now.”)
Costas also kissed her hello – he’s still job-hunting – as did Sean. (“You have a lot of admirers,” I told Ronna. “Deservedly so.”)
For the first time, Ronna seemed to be getting out of her depression. She talked about her ballet course at the New School, which starts next week.
Today I had a meeting of the Search Committee for the CUNY Instructional Resources Center Director today. Jay Hershenson was there, and he told me to call him next week; he still hasn’t found an Executive Director for the University Student Senate yet, and the office is busy, what with Richie Rothbard bringing out theCUNY Voice newspaper this week.
The committee, chaired by Dean Leslie Berger, who’s a sweet man with a thick European Jewish accent – with other members including the Graduate Center President Harold Proshansky and Hostos Community College President Candido de Leon – decided to interview four applicants – the only one I know is Prof. Mina Shaughnessy from CCNY – next week, and we adjourned quickly.
Back in Brooklyn at 3 PM, I remembered that Ronna had a haircutting appointment with Joe, and I found her outside Telepathy, where I told her mother, who was leaving, that I would drive Ronna home.
I watched Joe do a really good job of angling Ronna’s hair. In a playful mood, when Joe covered Ronna’s face with her hair, I said, “That’s good; leave it that way!”
Afterwards she looked so beautiful. And she was very happy after she got off the barber’s chair because, using Telepathy’s phone to call ARCO, Ronna learned the job was hers,starting on Monday.
We went back to my house and hugged in celebration (also because we missed each other). I feel so good because my girlfriend, my best friend, is happy. We kissed and touched and laughed, and then I drove her home to await Susan, who’s spending the weekend at her house.
Ronna and I wanted to get in some lovemaking, but we didn’t have time, and we have to be platonic tonight so that Susan won’t feel uncomfortable. A drag, but I’ll make the best of it.
Monday, September 23, 1974
Autumn weather arrived promptly today, the first day of the new season. It was cooler than it’s been since last April.
Last night I returned a phone call from Gary, who told me that he had gone yesterday morning to the Armory and was selected with some other Guardsmen to participate in a “God and Country Day” parade and rally.
They took them to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where they marched and about-faced and snapped to attention like idiots. They marched down Fifth Avenue to Bryant Park and then the speeches began.
“God and Country Day” turned out to be a front for some right-wing Catholic campaign against abortion, with speaker after speaker defending “the right to life.” Hugh Carey left the left the platform halfway through; obviously he felt he had been duped.
Gary and his friends wished they could leave, too, because they found the speeches abhorrent and resented having to take part in the rally. Gary said otherwise he’s been very busy, what with his schoolwork, being a TA, and seeing Kay.
Now, Gary said, he’s got a cold. While we were talking, he said he was eating some Jell-O for his sore throat and made one of his best malapropisms ever when he said he didn’t like Jell-O’s “constituency.”
I also called Elihu to return his call. Allan answered the phone, and I talked with him for a while. Allan’s mother went back to Tampa this weekend. Then I chatted with Elihu.
Both of them asked about Leon, but Leon told me that he wanted Allan’s number at work so he wouldn’t take a chance on getting Elihu if he called their apartment. Of course, I didn’t mention that to Elihu. Who knows, Leon might not have wanted to see me, either. Elihu said he spends most of his time reading, in preparation for that November exam at the Graduate Center.
This morning I visited Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, who informed me that they may be flying down to Florida to spend a few weeks with Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney and that I could use their apartment while they’re away.
It would be nice to live alone in Rockaway, if only for a little while, but their trip isn’t definite yet – although I do know Marty’s been encouraging them to spend the winter in Florida.
Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris came up; that man is so neurotic that he’s afraid to walk on my grandparents’ terrace. But then, again so is Marc. Still, Uncle Morris and Grandpa Herb did tell me some good stories about Brooklyn in the late horse-and-buggy days.
They spoke about how much of the borough was farmland then and how they used to steal boats in Canarsie and go out rowing on Jamaica Bay and how they had to fight off the Italian kids as they made their way back to Brownsville.
The rest of the day, I mostly wrote. “The Peacock Room” is not complete, but I’m almost finished with it, and the story is over 40 pages so far. I have great reservations about it.
I read Josh’s story for our Fiction Workshop, and it’s witty and clever: the story of a vengeful but sensitive urban gang leader (who writes poetry, yet): obviously all of Josh’s fantasies about himself.
In contrast to Josh’s characters, the people in “The Peacock Room” aren’t as alive: they’re subtler, perhaps too subtle. I guess my probably is that I’m too intellectual (I’d love to write more viscerally, like Josh): I have to be pseudo-brilliant and grace my pages with references to Capra movies, Whistler, quotes from Gogol (in Russian yet) and Auden.
Josh will say my story is pure soap opera, and he’ll be right. Yet I’ve always defended soap operas as a genre, and parts of my story, at least, must be somewhat relevant to other people. It’s hard work, writing and typing all day.
In the middle of the afternoon, I took a bath, and it was so wonderful, being allowed to steep in warm water; I haven’t taken a bath in many months. (During my nervous breakdown days, I had a bath and a cup of tea every night: a ritual to help me sleep.)
Since Friday, I had been planning to surprise Ronna tonight when she came out of her modern dance class at the New School (her class will normally be on Wednesdays, but this week Wednesday is Erev Yom Kippur) and so I parked by a pump on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street and caught her at 7:45 PM tonight. She looked glad to see me.
“I just want to show you that I’m not just in this for the sex,” I said – a question she had raised in bed yesterday. Ronna said her job at ARCO is kind of boring – she typed practically all day – but the people there are all nice and she enjoyed her lunch hour, eating a piece of American cheese and wandering around the neighborhood. Max’s Kansas City is right downstairs from her building.
Her class in dance was exhausting, and she was already charley-horse and beginning to cramp up. But she’s excited about it, and it’s an incentive for her to lose weight.
Tonight, walking to the car on Fifth Avenue, Ronna looked like a pretty working woman in the city: capable, clever and funny. I think I enjoyed taking her home more than she appreciated the prospect of not having to ride the LL train home. Anyway, it was a good moment.
Tuesday, September 24, 1974
At dinner tonight, Dad asked me, “How are you doing?” He knew how depressed I’d been on Saturday about not seeing Mrs. Ehrlich anymore. My answer was “Fine,” and that’s pretty much the story at the end of the first therapy-less week of my life.
I got to BC at 1 PM today and ran into Ronna’s cousin Ellen, who kissed me and said she was in a rush, so we didn’t talk long.
In LaGuardia, I found Mason and Joy, who was waiting for Costas. She wants to get him something and have it engraved, so she needed to know his middle initial. “I think it begins with an epsilon,” I said.
I walked Mason over to the Education Department in James Hall, then I watched some guys playing in the paddleball rooms, looking at their bodies more than their techniques.
Then I walked around for a while, feeling the way I did as a freshman, rootless and disoriented. I ran into Kathy, who put it well when she said, “LaGuardia’s deserted. It’s not like last year, is it, Richie?” Or the years before that.
Not only did my friends graduate and leave: it seems that new people don’t hang out in LaGuardia Hall anymore. So I wandered from the library to SUBO, where I saw Mason again, with Stacy, who stared at me blankly for a minute, probably wondering if she was going to ignore me or acknowledge me; in the end, she said hello.
I had lunch by myself in Kosher King, not wishing to disturb Ronna’s sister, who was sitting nearby with some young man. Then I ran into Vito and his friend Angie (I like her; she’s breezy and says she and I like the same kind of shoes), and we walked around, trying to get Vito some letters of recommendation so he can get into grad school in speech therapy for this spring.
Vito’s back still gives him trouble, but he said he doesn’t want to go through the pain of a myelogram and will just live with it, happy to be able to be walking around and doing things again.
At the Fiction Workshop, Baumbach had my story, and I collated the first 25 pages of it, the part he had before today. Everyone read it before class, and then we discussed it.
Alice surprised me by asking Baumbach if she could sit in, saying she was my friend; Baumbach surprised me by agreeing to Alice’s request.
I think a couple of years ago, the criticism my story received in the Workshop would have torn me up – but now I realize they’re only criticizing my story, not me. Still, my writing is important to me, and I was aware I was blushing throughout most of the class.
Barbara is really a bitch; I guess Josh would call her “a ruddy cunt,” a term I’ve never heard anyone but Josh use. She objected to all of my parenthetical interruptions (which she’s going to get a lot of, because that’s my style; Baumbach sort of defended it).
She also said she couldn’t get through all my characters. “I had the same trouble with Galsworthy in the opening of The Man of Property,” Barbara said, “and I never got beyond the first chapter.” Little does she know I took this comparison with my former idol as a compliment.
Generally, Barbara just bitched bitingly about my story. Will Rogers should have met Barbara (though I guess he said he never met a man he didn’t like). I guess she’s very bitter and angry at the world about her fucked-up life.
Josh liked my writing style but thought my subject matter “sucked” (an opinion I can respect, because I know Josh and that he was only being honest). He told Barbara that she felt anything she would have written differently, she called “wrong.” I don’t think Josh and Barbara are going to be the best of friends.
Todd and Simon didn’t think much of the story, either. Simon doesn’t like literary references.
After the workshop, Alice, who had just sat there observing, took me to Boylan cafeteria for juice. She said she wanted to physically attack Barbara and wondered how I could stand it.
Alice said she loved my story but didn’t want to say anything because she was a guest and felt it might have looked like I’d brought her there to defend my work. Vito joined us, and it was good to have him around, too. He said he’s writing a play about a girl who dies from a myelogram and her weird family (based on his own, of course).
Going home on the Flatbush Avenue bus, I met Jason, who said that so far he’s enjoying his freshman classes at Columbia and is hoping to get a room up there.
After supper, I picked up Alice at 7 PM and we drove into the city for a little magazine publishers’ conference in this crazy loft filled with weirdoes. We left after a few minutes.
Grandma Sylvia went to the doctor today, and he gave her a very good report. He took away her crutches and replaced them with two canes, and he has every hope that she will, before too long, walk without any assistance. Just to see her get this far seems like a miracle.
Late tonight I spoke to Ronna, who told me she too went to the doctor today – after work, because she had been having dizzy spells. He said her blood pressure was okay, gave her a liver shot, and said it might be psychosomatic, from the pressure of starting a new job.
I told Ronna about the reception “The Peacock Room” got in the Fiction Workshop and how I’m afraid to let her read it. So many details in Leslie Kiviak’s life are taken from Ronna’s: the compulsion to touch objects in a strange room, her not getting her period for four months as an adolescent, other things.
And I’ve drawn freely on Ivan and the rest of his family as the model for Leslie’s husband and in-laws. The Ken Sullivan character is partly me and partly Brian; the Scott character is a darker side of my nature; Sari is a different side of Ronna with a little Consuelo thrown in.
But overall, the person in my story I identify with is Leslie. I know I probably shouldn’t try to project myself onto the character of a female, but if Lawrence could do it, why not I? Before I went to bed, I wrote some more and typed it up.
So I guess I wasn’t that discouraged by today’s workshop if I am keeping going with “The Peacock Room.” I only have the final segment left to write.
I’m sure that one day I shall look on this story with condescension and embarrassment, but right now I am only 23, after all, and still finding my way.
Thursday, September 26, 1974
The Day of Atonement is ending, and I find myself feeling restful and comfortable but also a little bored. I am content with many aspects of my life, but there are times when I wish there was more excitement in it. Just once I’d like to give myself over entirely to passion and whim, and perhaps I will.
I’m tired because I stayed out pretty late last night. I picked up Avis at her apartment at 9 PM; she had dinner out with her father (her mother will be returning from Florida tonight) and she had the day off today so she could go to the movies with me.
She finally got to give me the present she’d brought back from Germany; it turned out to be a beautiful porcelain jar filled with delicious (and spicy) ginger candy.
Avis said work is a drag, but she’s making good money, and she intends to spend her first paycheck on an airline ticket back to Europe. Helmut wrote her that while he’d wanted the opportunity to live alone, he isn’t enjoying it as much as he thought he would.
For one thing, Helmut has no one to wake him up in the morning: all his life he depended upon his mother, and then Avis, for that. But I’m sure there’s more to it than just having a human alarm clock around: he closed his letter with, “I love you, Avis, and I wait for you.”
I told Avis about my dislike of Barbara, and she agreed that Barbara can be very difficult, but she said that Barbara in effect missed six years of social change while she was a stay-at-home, and it still must be difficult for her.
Maybe I should make a greater effort to get behind Barbara’s rather nasty façade. (It worked with Joy, anyway: by now Joy and I have become pretty fond of one another.)
Avis and I went to Georgetown to seeChinatown. The theater was surprisingly crowded. We hoped no one would take us sophisticated old friends for the dating teenagers who made up most of the audience.
The movie was very well-done and we enjoyed it a lot. We came out at midnight and it was so chilly that I had to resort to the car heater as Avis and I drove over to the Floridian for bagels and coffee and much conversation.
We sat in the diner for well over an hour. Avis confirmed that Melvin and Libby are lovers; just a few nights ago, they slept together in Avis’s parents’ bed.
Avis told me that for the first time in her life she’s consciously being celibate; she just isn’t interested in casual sex anymore. And that may have cost her a friend: Alan Karpoff got really wrecked on some wine one night at her house and asked if he could sleep over.
Avis said sure, got into her nightgown, and rolled out her sister’s old highriser for him. But Alan wanted to make love, and when Avis told him she wasn’t into that, he got dressed and left in a kind of huff.
Now Avis wonders if he wasn’t just seeing her for the sex. But she feels secure about her man Helmut. She said she realizes now that she came home mostly in order to see her “family of friends” – I love that phrase – all of whom she missed terribly in Germany.
In Bremen, all her friends there were Helmut’s friends, and all Germans: people who were “beautiful,” but whom she couldn’t relate to as well as she can her Brooklyn friends, who shared a similar environment and upbringing.
Still, Helmut is in Germany, and she said she couldn’t imagine not being with him. It’s a difficult situation, but Avis – an ex-analysand, after all – realizes she’s always gotten in with men who were either psychologically or physically distant: Scott, the Karpoff twins, Seymour from England, and now Helmut.
In any case, I kissed my dear friend goodnight around 2 AM and came home to bed.
On my way over to Grandpa Nat’s on this bright, cool day, I saw Mason walking on Rockaway Beach Boulevard. I gave him a lift to his corner, not going up to his house, because he was coming from the synagogue and he didn’t want his parents to see him driving around in my car.
Yesterday I picked out a birthday card for Mason, based on our longstanding joke about “beavers” as the term for vaginas.
I sat outside on the terrace overlooking the beach with Grandma Sylvia, who still prefers her crutches to the two canes, and with Grandpa Nat, who had just returned from shul, where he said he saw Grandma Ethel. (No one was home at the Sarretts’ when I ran their bell.)
“Despite all the fights,” Grandma Sylvia said, “being with Grandpa is the most important thing.”