A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-October, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, October 12, 1974
Physically, I’m a wreck: I’ve come down with some kind of virus or cold. But emotionally, I am fine, and right now that is what matters to me.
Last night I picked up Ronna at 8 PM; I said hello to her mother, who was just getting over being sick. Ronna and I came back to my bedroom. She finished reading Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 this week, and we discussed it.
Then she wanted to read the manuscript of “The Peacock Room,” so I left her alone in my room and went downstairs to watch TV; I was really nervous about the story offending her.
Half an hour later, I came upstairs and lay on the floor of Jonathan’s room. I looked through the vent and tried to gauge her reactions as she read, but she appeared mostly blank, not smiling or frowning.
Finally she finished and I asked her how she liked it. Ronna said the first six or seven pages made her very angry, when I used many details about her life and her relationship with Ivan and his family.
First she said, “If Ivan ever reads this, he’ll shoot your pecker off,” and then said, “No, he’d probably be flattered about you patterning the character of the husband after him.”
After those initial pages that made her angry, Ronna said, she read on and got into the story. “I was surprised to discover how well you actually write,” she said. “I didn’t expect that.”
Although she wasn’t crazy about me revealing many of her most intimate experiences, she liked the character of Leslie: “It’s sort of nice, with you and me and Vicky being the same person and having an affair with Brian. I like having your sinuses inside of me.”
I told her I didn’t mean any of the satire to be malicious and the story is dedicated to her.
We lay on my bed for a while, talking. We kissed and touched, but although we were aroused, we didn’t want to have any kind of sexual relationship last night. Well, both of uswanted to, but in the end I think it was best that we didn’t go to bed together.
Whatever our relationship turns into, we’ve got to give ourselves time. Right now we’re very dear, very loving friends who are still attracted to one another. Ronna wants to have an ongoing relationship with me, “not just a nostalgic discussion of the past,” as she has with Ivan.
(Last Sunday, she told me, she finally thanked him for helping her get through her parents’ divorce. Ivan said, “I’m just glad I was there.” That’s so nice.)
We went to Rockaway for a midnight supper-snack at the Ram’s Horn, and I took her home at 1 AM. I lay awake a long time, suffering from a postnasal drip, and by now it has blossomed into a regulation cold.
I was really upset about it because Ronna and I were supposed to go to a dance recital tonight and I wasn’t feeling up to it. But Ronna called a little while ago to say that she was ill, too: with a postnasal drip, a sore throat and body aches.
So we decided to cancel going to the recital because neither of us were feeling that well. I suppose one of us caught it from the other, but perversely I think it’s sort of nice, us being ill together.
This afternoon I visited Great-Grandma Bessie at the hospital. Uncle Jerry was there with his daughter Sheryl, who’s 17 and quite pretty, with nice little breasts.
Am I a pederast or pervert to be aroused at such an inappropriate time by my own (distant) little cousin? Also there were Aunt Shifra and Uncle Dave Tarras and Great-Grandma Bessie’s sister Etta.
I held Great-Grandma Bessie’s hand; she didn’t have much strength in her voice so I had to get close to talk to her. She thanked me for coming and we talked about the family. She was still looking bad, but better than she did on Monday.
When I got home from Flatbush General, I called Vito and learned that he’s doing okay. Last night he went to see Gypsy with Jason, George and Karin, and he said Angela Lansbury was very good as Mama Rose.
Vito told me that he’s “still doing nothing,” that his medical exam at the Welfare office was degrading, and that he had a new friend, Eugene, whom he described as a small, obsessive, intellectual English major. (“You’d like him, Richie.”)
I stayed on the phone this evening, making more phone calls. Mikey told me he’s been busy with schoolwork. Mikey said Mike is working for Dean Wiepert this week, but mostly Mike has been catching up on his incomplete credits.
Mikey mentioned in passing that Leon and Allan went up to Syracuse for the weekend to visit Skip; that kind of surprised me.
So I called up Elihu, hoping to find out more about Leon and Allan’s trip, and I did, although I interrupted Elihu’s reading of some book on suffrage for his November exam. He said he likes tutoring at Long Island University, where his father, the English Department chairman, got him the job.
Elihu added a new wrinkle to the story of Leon and Allan’s trip to Syracuse: it was Shelli who drove Leon up to their apartment on Friday. (They took Allan’s car, of course.)
Elihu said that Shelli explained that she was in Brooklyn to drive her parents to Boston for the weekend; apparently she and Jerry have moved to a better neighborhood there.
Elihu noted there was no sign that Jerry was with Leon and Allan, and no mention was made of Jerry. Like me (and Elayne and others), Elihu is not recognized by Jerry as a human being.
Jerry has this endearing habit of pretending that people who displease him don’t exist. Elihu said Shelli took some photos while they were in the apartment, and I joked that Jerry would label them for the family album: “Leon, Allan, Unidentified Person.”
I suppose I’d like to be included in that gang, but all in all, that whole Skip-Leon-Shelli-Jerry group is best avoided for my mental health.
Unable to sleep because I felt lousy at 11 PM, I took the car over to Flatlands and Ralph to get the Sunday New York Times from the kids who sell it on the corner.
The Book Review reviewed the first three novels from the Fiction Collective. They said Baumbach’s book was far and away the best of the three, but they said it could use more character and plot development. What’s he supposed to do, rewrite it and hand it in again to the class? No, that’s what I do.
Monday, October 14, 1974
8 PM. I’m weary, with this kind of weak-kneed feeling that’s probably a product of my illness. But also, it’s been a long and mostly dreary 24 hours.
Last night, talking to Ronna, I got very annoyed at her; Billy kept coming into her room and screaming, and she seemed to be more interested in talking to him than to me. I told her how pissed off I was, curtly said goodbye, and she hung up without responding.
I lay in my darkened bedroom for an hour, my head and stomach churning. When I called her back, Ronna said she would have called me back in a few minutes.
“I don’t know why I got so upset,” I said. “I need a shrink.”
Just then, I began to realize something, thus being my own therapist and practically belying my own words. It occurred to me that the eve of Columbus Day was when, three years ago, I made that feeble suicide attempt.
After that realization, things began to make sense as I considered the situation. On that Sunday night in 1971, I tried to get Shelli on the phone and she was busy on the line with Jerry. I panicked, knowing that it was him she loved and not me.
Speaking with Elihu about Shelli and Jerry this weekend revived my memory of my situation with them back in October 1971, and I began reliving it, using Ronna and her brother in the supporting roles. She was paying attention to Billy rather than me – thus the neurotic’s deduction that she loves him more than me.
It’s all the more frightening and real because Ronna and I are breaking up, too, albeit in a different fashion, with no other person involved. I wondered if this being friends can work out with Ronna when it didn’t work with Shelli. Maybe I wanted to start a fight with her to prove my point and thus make myself more miserable.
Ronna said change is scary, but that she’ll always be around if I need her. I said good night, and after hanging up, it came to me that it was Ronna’s half-birthday.
Two years ago, when I sent her a half-birthday card, I did it as a friendly way of flirting, of saying I wanted to get involved with her. Now, two years later, I’m so involved and I forget about her half-birthday. I suppose that’s an ironic as anything else around.
I had a troubled night, filled with awful dreams, and woke up to a cloudy, cheerless day. All day I remained in a state of controlled gloom.
This afternoon I went to the college to buy The Professor’s House by Willa Cather – I’m really getting into it, maybe because it fits the mood I’m in – and I saw Tom and another of Diane’s friends (Zelda, I think). It felt so good to seeanyone, any friendly face.
I watched Prof. Fried on his bicycle and joked with Mr. Deutsch when I went to pick up some vitamin C in his drugstore. And I watched soap operas and read and had pizza, but by 4 PM, I felt just awful: fat, pimply, with dirty hair, ugly clothes, everything bad.
So I took a chance and drove to Manhattan to try to pick up Ronna after she got out from work. Going over the high Gowanus Expressway, I started to face my old nemesis, the anxiety attack.
But I got a grip on myself and the steering wheel, and said: No, I won’t go back to that; whatever I’m feeling will come out as emotion and not as nausea or nerves.
Rather nervously, I stood on Park Avenue South outside Max’s Kansas City waiting to see if I could see Ronna as she walked out of the ARCO offices.
At one point, a drunk approached me, and when I moved away to avoid him, he looked upset and said, “I’ve been wounded so much by now, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
When Ronna came out and saw me, we didn’t say a word. She took my hand and we went to my car. While driving her home, I told her how lousy I had been feeling and suddenly discovered that her presence had made me feel much better.
At her house, we hugged, but I didn’t go up. Is it love, or fear of being alone, or are they the same things in the end?
Tuesday, October 15, 1974
I started work at Alexander’s this morning. Last night I washed my hair and showered, and I awoke early, in plenty of time to report to Personnel right at 10 AM.
The five of who started today were issued buttons with a big “A” on them, time cards, and other goodies – among them a combination to a locker (the fellow and I sharing one later found that our lock didn’t open; we were told to check our things for today and ask for a new locker tomorrow).
We were shown a ridiculous training film and briefed on store security and dress codes. I’m in sales, so I have to wear a tie and jacket, although in practice I’ve noticed that most of the guys on the floor just wear a nice shirt and tie and good pants.
We were briefed on punching in and out; we get a fifteen-minute break and have to punch in and out then, too. My hours are 10 AM to 2 PM, five days a week – Monday was our day off this week – and I am in the Menswear Department.
They brought me down to meet Matty Cestare, the Menswear section supervisor, or whatever he is; the man was busy on the phones, and I’m not sure he even noticed me today.
I was introduced to Jimmy, a friendly black guy who put me in the care of two older saleswomen, Joannie and Nora.
Ironically, I was assigned to men’s slacks. Dad sells Alexander’s, and I’m sure he’ll joke that I should push his pants on the customers. Today I had very little contact with customers; a “Sorry, this is my first day,” said with an ingenuous smile, works well.
Mostly my contact was with the slacks: pure boredom, going over the racks to put them in size order, to acquaint myself with the stock. For the three hours I was on the floor, no one bothered me. I took my break at the end and left at 2 PM.
The job is boring, and I’m not used to being on my feet for such a long time, but perhaps I can stick with it; the $37 or so I’ll be paid every Wednesday looks awfully nice.
I had lunch in the mall at Bun n’ Burger and hopped on the Flatbush Avenue bus to the college. In LaGuardia, I found friendly faces – Vito, Mara, and Morty – whom I hadn’t seen in a long time.
I told Morty I’d drop by some night; I’ve got to return his Kate Chopin book. It was also good to be with Vito and Mara again; the three of us always formed a nice group.
Mara’s still working for Senator Javits and she told me not to quit Alexander’s until Saturday, as she works at a nearby service desk and we can have fun together, she says.
All of us were pretty hard up for any good gossip; the only recent thing of note was Melvin and Libby, and that’s old hat by now.
Speaking of Melvin, he came by and everyone went to his apartment; Yolanda joined them, anxious to eat lunch and curious about what food Melvin would provide.
I found Simon on the quadrangle and we walked to class together. I just love the Fiction Workshop now that we’re all getting on so well together. Today we did the second half of “The Peacock Room.”
The class, and Baumbach, seemed to like it. They all preferred it to the first half, most making what seemed to be a valid suggestion: cut out some of the unnecessary narrative information in the beginning of the story.
Baumbach felt the story was working itself out as I write it, and he encouraged me to write more of it, continuing Leslie’s adventures and her character profile. I think I will.
After class, Simon and I went to the Pub. (Renee was there, having dinner with some bearded fellow.) Simon and I exchanged some more background: I told him about Ronna, and also Shelli and Jerry and Ivan, etc.
Simon was going with this girl for three years, and he lived with her for the last year until she went to live with another guy. (After the last time they fucked, she told him that she had come during sex that time but that all her other orgasms over the previous three years had been faked.)
That really shook Simon up and put him in therapy – and it also started him writing. I like Simon more and more. We find we shared the experience of silent phone calls from an old girlfriend.
Saturday, October 19, 1974
3 PM. I feel fresh and relaxed and pink, and almost new. If it wasn’t for a little acne and a slight headache from too little sleep, things would be perfect.
I’ve just come out of the shower and I’m in new fluffy white socks, a pale yellow T-shirt and underwear. I smell of herbs, from the bath oil. Herbs are such magnificent things; I should get into them again.
This afternoon after I got out of work, I was lying around, feeling pretty crummy, so I decided that instead of trying to make up for lost sleep, I would try to revive myself by a drive out to the beach.
It’s unusually cold out – winter jackets were called for today – but it’s sunny and invigorating to ride with the window open, feeling the breeze.
I drove around Rockaway for a while, went to the Peninsula branch library for a while (I sort of have a crush on this small, pretty woman at the counter there) and took out Lillian Hellman’s An Unfinished Woman – I’ve heard this memoir is as good as Pentimento – and reserved Susan Fromberg Schaeffer’s Anya.
Coming back home, I had a bagel and orange juice and read that my favorite soap opera, Another World, is expanding to an hour; perhaps I should see if they need any more production help. Working on a daytime serial would be great, as I’d like to write for one someday.
Last evening I waited outside Ronna’s building for her at 5:15 PM. She was glad to see me, but asked if I would call her first “before you startle me to death one day.” Ronna told me about Goldberg’s Pizzeria, and we went there for dinner.
I remember a few years back, New York magazine said Goldberg’s had the best pizza in the city. Ronna and I sat at a small table; it was dark inside and very cozy. We ordered a small pepperoni pizza, a salad, and sodas, and it was really delicious. It seemed so right, being there.
After all the rush hour traffic had subsided, I drove back into Brooklyn and we were alone in her house except for the dog. But we finally escaped him by going into her sister’s bedroom, empty and cozy, where we undressed and made love on the bed.
Funny, the first time last evening when I held Ronna, it felt unfamiliar and new; she tasted milky. I came and she didn’t; she kept her tampon in, so it was going to be difficult. But Ronna was so glad I don’t try to force her to have an orgasm for the benefit of my ego.
She’s never lied to me about orgasms, she said, although at times I almost drove her to do so. It occurred to me that maybe Simon sort of led his old girlfriend to fake her orgasms.
Susan called from Rutgers, and I puttered around the apartment while Ronna spoke to Susan, who’s busy with papers and reading. I left Ronna’s house around 11 PM and came home, snuggled under two blankets, and fell asleep.
It was hard to drag myself out of bed this morning, but I managed to get myself to Alexander’s in time for work.
Joannie is a nice co-worker who’s been very helpful in getting me adjusted to the place. Her son is 21 and already married, but he’s going for an M.A. in English at CCNY, so I guess she’s like a “work mom” for me.
It was fun today having Mara at the nearby service desk, especially when I had to go over to her to have her change a ticket or something. “The only new gossip I have is about myself,” Mara said, but she was loath to reveal it.
She did say that for her TV show, she’s interviewing mothers returning to college; that will be her final director’s project, and it may be broadcast over Channel 31.
Phyllis, who came in from Washington for the weekend, came into the store to have lunch with Mara, and while she was waiting for her, Phyllis came over to me while I was folding pants. Considering our past difficulties, she was pretty friendly.
Phyllis said that law school is difficult but rewarding. She’s living near GWU, in Foggy Bottom. She told me she ran into Scott at a party, but I didn’t ask her if she still was seeing Timmy: better leave well enough alone.
But aside from the boredom, Alexander’s on Saturday is a good place to observe people. Norma Eisen came in to buy pants for her gigantic son; she looked very unprofessorial and quite housewifey.
And Hilda, who works undercover as a security person, pretending to be a shopper but watching people who might be shoplifting, was having an argument with a girl who was either a fellow worker or a suspect.
Sunday, October 20, 1974
8 PM. I’ve just finished immersing myself in the Sunday Times. To me, reading about literature and politics and culture is so stimulating, it’s almost a high. I guess if that qualifies a person for the label of intellectual, then I fit the bill.
I enjoyed reading about the races for Congress and governor; deep down, I’ve never lost that early love for politics, for campaigns and election. Driving through Rockaway last night, I showed off for Ronna by quoting her election returns in U.S. Senate races from 1956 to 1972 (“Doesn’t everybody know who Estes Kefauver is?”)
But I’m also a culture vulture. After reading about Buñuel’s latest film, Le Fantôme de la liberté, I can’t wait to do it and hope it’s as good as Discreet Charm.
There was also a great article about college kids and soap operas. The article began with the scene in the TV room of SUBO, where a hundred students watchAll My Children every day.
Sean made a fool of himself in the article by saying “Most females still hover toward the romantic, and the soap operas spoon-feed them vicarious thrills.” I can see Sean saying it in that condescending, chauvinistic tone of his. By now, he’s out-Costased Costas.
But Sean’s stupidity was balanced by brilliant remarks byKingsman news editor Marc Frons, a soap fan, who said that the soaps are “the cousins in their sweep of time and emotion, if not depth, of Balzac, Dostoevsky and Proust. Soap opera time flows with expansive slowness, and human affairs are explored as slowly (at least theoretically) as they are in real life.”
The article closed with a quote from an art history grad student at Columbia: “Life itself is a soap opera anyway.” Which I thought and said and wrote years ago.
I believe that “experimentalism” and “avant-garde” is now old hat, and people want plots and stories and emotions. Baumbach’s stuff may be innovative, but I think my generation wants to go back to the kind of literature exemplified by Balzac and Galsworthy.
Enough of my dime-store esthetics.
When I came to fetch her last night, Ronna looked terrific, simply terrific, wearing a new outfit: a blue print smock and salmon pants. It was very becoming.
I waited in the car while she was hemming up the pants, and the sky was marbled with clouds, and Don McLean’s “Vincent” came on the radio. As always, it made me think of Avis: I wondered how she’ll make out with her new life in Germany.
Ronna and I went to the Rialto to see The Groove Tube, a fairly funny and raunchy satire of TV.
As we were leaving the theater, we ran into Elise and a girlfriend as we were leaving the theater, and we stopped to talk with them for a while. Afterwards, Ronna said she’s long believed that Elise has a crush on me: “It’s so obvious she thinks you’re adorable.”
It was early, so we took a long drive, along the BQE and LIE to Queens Boulevard, during which Ronna and I talked about many things: the day she saw the Apollo 11 astronauts on Queens Boulevard – that was when she was living in Lefrak City – and how, curiously, she would like to see Phyllis again.
We were getting hungry, and I suggested we try a new place, so we went to La Crêpe in Cedarhurst. It was very cozy and elegant and everyone was French.
Our crepes were delicious: mine sugar, hers apples and Swiss cheese. It was wonderful and intimate and I felt very happy; it was good to pretend to be a sophisticated, affluent resident of the Five Towns.
By the time we finished supper, it was well after midnight, and Ronna wanted to get up early today because of Billy’s birthday party – he turned 7 today – so I took her home.
We hugged and kissed at the door, and I told her, “It’s evenings like this – times when nothing really spectacular happens, times when you just have quiet pleasures and love – that you really remember in the end.”
I came home and read and thought about the next story I’m going to write and I watched TV (an old movie) and finally I fell into a relaxed sleep, knowing that today, I could sleep until noon.
And to think: if I had done myself in on Wednesday, I’d have missed all this.