A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Monday, October 21, 1974
Life is funny sometimes. Isn’t that a brilliant, original thought? Maybe I should have it copyrighted. The wintry weather is still with us, but I don’t mind, really, except for the chapped lips it gives me.
Yesterday I was out in Rockaway, and on the Boulevard I ran into Grandma Ethel, Uncle Morris and Aunt Tillie, who were going to a discount store down around Beach 88th Street. I joined them for a brisk mile walk.
It’s disgraceful how senior citizens like them, who’ve worked hard all their lives, are now only just managing to get by. I feel sad when I see them have to scramble for bargains on vitamins and clothing and food.
Grandma Ethel can get a free flu shot at the Board of Health, but she’s afraid; I advised her to do it, as doctors predict a severe outbreak of a new strain of flu this winter.
Uncle Morris is a strange man, rather paranoid (“The little man like me never gets a break”) but kind of endearingly pathetic.
On our return to Dayton Towers, Grandma Ethel decided to sit outside with some ladies, so I went upstairs to check in on Grandpa Herb. He’s going into the hospital next week to be operated on for his hernia.
His intestines are into his testicles by now; they may have to remove one testicle. If all goes well with that, he’ll stay in Peninsula Hospital to have cataract surgery on the other eye.
Grandpa Herb should have had the hernia operation twenty years ago, but that’s human nature for you: always putting things off. Dad has this lump on the side of his jaw for a long time now, and I wish he’d see a doctor about it.
Last night, after Billy’s birthday party ended, I spoke with Ronna. She said she was considering returning Ivan’s call: “I’m doing it mostly to prove I’ll call you after we break up.”
I’m getting accustomed to working part-time; the hours at Alexander’s seem to go faster, and I can even wake up early without too much groaning. I was a little concerned because they made a mistake on my schedule and my time-punch card said “9-2” instead of “10-2.”
But Matty Cestare, the boss of the Menswear Department, said he’d fix it up. Mara told me that he’s gay, and so are a lot of other people in the store. Dad mentioned that Matty used to work at Ohrbach’s for Leo Marmelstein, the chief buyer there, and Dad said he’s “very capable.”
Some weird incidents happen at work. Today a woman came in and said she bought a shirt last week, but since then, her husband passed away “and I have no use for it now.” Perhaps she was lying.
On Saturday an old lady asked me for size 42 jeans for her daughter. The girl wanted a particular type and we didn’t have any that large. I felt a pang when thought of such an enormously fat girl, having her mother do her clothes shopping for her because she was embarrassed.
It made me think of Shelli. I was reminded of Shelli by someone else today: I had a long conversation at the college with Saul, her old boyfriend. I told him about the MFA program, and he said, “Shelli used to tell me that you write.”
Saul is afraid the M.A. program in English at BC may be too tough for him. We talked about it for a while, and I suggested he speak to Professors Mayers or Merritt.
There was a big commotion in Boylan Hall: some Puerto Rican students, upset over Kneller’s hand-picked Puerto Rican Studies Department chairman, stormed the president’s office chanting something.
“I’m too old for this,” I told Sid and Carrie, and I meant it: I just walked the other way from the ruckus.
In doing so, I ran into Stefanie, who asked if I wanted to go with her to the Carnegie Hall Cinema to see some Eisenstein films. I told her I would have loved to, but I had no money.
Dad has the big Menswear show this week in the Coliseum, and he said he’s in the next room from Ivan’s family’s company. Dad said it hasn’t been very busy, reflecting the horrible economy.
Dad said that today Joel’s father was up at “the place” all day talking to Joel, who’s living in a Bedford Avenue commune and is into the Cabbalah and a lot of other weird trips.
Tuesday, October 22, 1974
7:30 PM. I’m going to see Mrs. Ehrlich in a little while. While I made the appointment when I was very depressed, it’s ironic that I’m going to see her tonight, when I’m feeling higher than I have in weeks, maybe months.
I just dropped Simon off at his shrink, which I suppose served as practice for seeing Mrs. Ehrlich tonight. Simon and I took a long drive out to Rockaway because he, a non-driver, loves to take drives, and because he doesn’t like to think too much before he sees his therapist.
Last evening I called Allan, who’s been very busy up at Columbia with work and school. On Friday night, Leon, Mikey and Mason came up and they all went to Chinatown.
While I was on the phone with Allan, Leon and Elihu came into the apartment. They are looking for a place for Leon to live; he’s got a new job at Low Library.
Allan put Elihu on, and I spoke to him for a few minutes. Elihu said he had fun this weekend in Providence, seeing his old friends, and he put Leon on the phone so we could exchange hellos.
Later in the evening, Josh called, asking me to come over; I told him I had to go to bed early. But he took Allan’s number and I hope he called him. I think they’re being ridiculous, two old friends pretending not to care about each other.
Work went okay today; it’s boring just straightening out pants, so I’m happy when I can do sales and stock work. I take my fifteen-minute breaks as late as possible, so I have only an hour or so left when I return to the floor.
At 3 PM, I arrived on campus, bringing Baumbach’s and Spielberg’s books for Josh to borrow. I found a group of friends on the grass: Mara, Carrie and Sid (who were tickling each other), Melvin and Karin.
Mara came along with me to my Fiction Tutorial to bring Baumbach a copy of theKingsman story she did on the Fiction Collective. Baumbach said that Buñuel’s new film is superb, and as I was the only in the class who appreciates Buñuel, we had a nice talk.
Then, in the Workshop, I read “Rampant Burping” aloud and the class reacted.
The verdict was a unanimous rave, except for some reservations by Denis. Barbara thought it was funny. Simon liked it, and everyone thought it was superior to “The Peacock Room.” Baumbach said I should definitely try to get “Rampant Burping” published and seemed pleased that the class liked such a way-out story.
Then I spoke, saying the story seemed almost a con, that it came too easy for me. I had worked hard on “Peacock Room,” and by comparison, I felt this was just a clever little piece of fluff.
Baumbach said that sometimes an author doesn’t have a “feel” for what he’s writing; sometimes a good story, the writer will think is bad, and vice versa. He urged me, and everyone, to rely on instinct more than intellect, and said that in a way this story may be some kind of resolution to “Peacock Room.”
I had another dinner at the Pub with Simon, who told me he’s really into astrology. The married woman – he, too, forgets and says “girl” – he’s seeing is a Gemini, and Simon says Geminis are frequently bisexual. He said Naomi definitely is, and I told him I am, too. (I’m sure it was no surprise.)
Simon is becoming a good friend. I like discovering things about him, like the fact that his grandmother was a whore, and I like telling him about me. On the drive to Rockaway, we discovered that he grew up on same block as Scott: they were in first grade together and even had a fist fight.
I admire Simon in many ways; he’s had a rough life.
Friday, October 25, 1974
Last evening, I futilely tried to capture the essence of the old LaGuardia lobby in fiction. Today, at the college, it seemed as though it was somehow the good old days again. On the local TV news I just watched, the Brooklyn College situation was the lead story (so what if they pronounced the “K” in Kneller’s name?).
After the four-day sit-in protesting Kneller’s hand-picked Puerto Rican Studies chairman and yesterday’s raid and mass arrests, tensions were high at the college.
I arrived on campus at noon, just as the rally was about to begin. As I approached, some Puerto Rican fellow told me, “Remember: keep cool, man,” leading me to wonder if he thought I looked like a violent rabble-rouser.
In LaGuardia, I found Mike and Cindy, and Mandy and Kenny; the “new look” slimmed-down Stanley arrived right after I did.
I told Stanley how good he looked. “Yes, now women give me meaningful glances on the subway,” he said. “But I still won’t give them my seat.”
Everyone was running around as the scent of revolution was again in the air, although Stanley said to me, “We’ve both seen better revolutions in the old days.”
Some bimmie rushed into LaGuardia, looking upset. “This isn’t a student government rally,” he said. “It’s a fucking leftist rally!” Stanley, Mike and I cracked up when we heard that.
“This place is like a Frank Capra movie,” Stanley said. Everyone rushed around so that people would know that they were important parts of The Movement.
It was an official Brooklyn College revolution, because all three of BC’s Leftist Trinity were out on the quadrangle, making speeches: Bart Meyers, Meyer Krieger, and little old Mrs. Marks from the neighborhood (“The name is spelled M-A-R-K-S, but the philosophy is spelled M-A-R-X”).
On CBS NewsRadio, the announcer forgot about reporting the rally long enough to complain about the high price of bagels in Boylan cafeteria.
Dean Smith came over and said, “Dick, how did you happen to pick this day to visit LaGuardia? Did you come to join in the fun?” When I told him I was now an MFA student, the dean said he didn’t know we had an MFA program in creative writing.
Elaine Taibi was going crazy, trying to find Sean or Ron so she could correct a rumor that the Alumni Association was supporting the Puerto Rican-led strike.
In the student government office, Mrs. D was busily making “Strike” posters. When Kenny kidded her about being too old to be a radical, she hit him on the head with a poster.
While we were watching the rally, Mandy mentioned that Daisy, Ron’s wife, is pregnant. “Yeah,” Mike said, “By Eddie Katzman.” That led Little Brucie to ask if it was possible to get pregnant from oral contact.
Stanley said he and Elihu are helping Elayne move tomorrow. After Elayne stopped seeing Leroy, she didn’t have that diversion and it opened her eyes to what a slob Melvin was and how he’d leave the door open all night so that Libby or others could come in at any time. Elayne was such a masochist for seeing Leroy, but at least she’ll be living alone now.
Bobby, a weekend visitor from Ohio State, where he has a grad assistantship in Speech, came by on his bike to visit his girlfriend Terri and to find out what was going on with the student strike.
Mandy told of how she defended Mike and told Meyer Krieger not to criticize Mike in her presence. “At which point the stiletto emerged from his cane,” Stanley said.
“Don’t make fun of him,” I told Stanley. “If you hadn’t lost weight, one day you too might weigh 400 pounds and need a cane like Meyer does.”
Walking around the periphery of the rally, I spoke to Sean, who got home from the printers at 6:30 AM and claimed to have only five hours of sleep in the past four days. When I mentioned Meyer Krieger’s name, Sean just said, “That asshole.”
Speaking to the crowd, Ron said, “We’ve got a mandate.” A student from the crowd shouted out, “Fuck Kneller!” and Ron said, “That’s our mandate!”
Well, what can you expect from a movement whose rallying chant has been: “Kneller, Kneller / You’re a liar / We’re gonna set your ass on fire”?
Luis Fuentes next spoke in Spanish, and then Robert Katz, Mr. PIRG, and Avery Horowitz of the Independent Democrats gave speeches supporting the strike.
I went out in the middle of the quadrangle and came across a whole delegation from Richmond College, including June Mosca, Paul Nelson and Eileen Hamlet, who told me that I was officially still the college’s representative to the University Student Senate.
The whole thing felt like a bad Allan Drury novel. Appropriately enough, the LaGuardia clock tower stopped at 12:55, as if to signal the Apocalypse.
As I made way through the crowd, I got a warm hello from Mason and Karin, neither of whom I’d seen in a while. Both are supporting the strike. “It’s so much nicer than just plain old cutting class,” Karin said.
Little Brucie, a born schlimazel, was the only one of the BC 44 arrested yesterday morning who isn’t Hispanic. I heard him tell a reporter, “This is the biggest thing that ever happened at Brooklyn College.”
Driving Mandy home, I told her I’ve seen bigger things.
Sunday, October 27, 1974
4 PM. Driving home from Rockaway just now, an incredible lazy feeling of serenity came over me and I remembered something I haven’t thought about in perhaps adecade. When I graduated from public school, Laurence, Aunt Arlyne’s brother, wrote in my autograph book: “Life is rich, warm and beautiful . . .”
Today I believe that it is: the texture, the feel of my life, seems to be complex and interesting, and more than that, very enjoyable. Maybe it was just the moment: I had driven out to the beach right after having breakfast at 1 PM.
I passed Vicky’s house and saw her out in front with five or six neighborhood children. She seemed to be giving them candy, so I guess they were doing early weekend trick-or-treating.
Somehow Vicky looked appealingly plain, maybe even appealingly ugly, with her angular head, close-cropped hair and too-big mouth. I didn’t want to spoil the picture I had of her by saying hello. She almost looked like a saint.
It’s funny catching people unawares in their unguarded moments like that: it makes them more human. I remember once seeing Jerry ineptly trying to dodge the traffic at the Junction, and suddenly he was no longer my enemy, but a helpless, hapless, lovable human being, with all his bad qualities divorced from him.
Ultimately that is what I would like to believe people are all about.
I dropped in on Mikey, whose family had company: his mother’s cousins. He was in his bedroom, listening to the radio, and said he was sore all over from playing football on Larry’s block yesterday.
Mikey told me about his evening with Mason, Allan and Leon: they went to Chinatown. Leon, he said, now has a different job at Columbia, reviewing grad school applications.
Because they were having a family birthday cake for Mikey’s mother, I didn’t want to intrude, but I asked Mikey if I could borrow his bicycle and he said okay.
It was very warm and sunny today, almost summerlike, and it felt exhilarating to cycle up and down the bumpy streets of Rockaway, passing the houses of people I know, and working my leg muscles and feeling the air rush past me.
I wish I could freeze that moment on the bike in time. Yet I wish I could do that with many moments; maybe that’s why I’m a writer.
After returning the bike, I had lunch at the Ram’s Horn. I sat at the counter, eating my hamburger with raw onion; in the glass of the little jukebox in front of me I could see the reflection of the water from Jamaica Bay and the towers of the city behind: it looked like Oz.
I guess I’m feeling good partly because of last night. Ronna and I had been having such hassles over the phone, I thought our evening together would be lousy, but it wasn’t.
I brought her half a dozen white carnations to say I wanted to stop fighting, and after a few rough spots, we did. I took her to the Elgin to see Last Tango in Paris. I know she had reservations about seeing the film, but she liked it pretty much.
And somehow when I saw it again, it did not seem very gross: some scenes were rough, but there was so much depth and understanding and pain behind them, it was almost beautiful, especially with that haunting music.
We left the theater holding hands – Eighth Avenue in the teens is not the greatest of neighborhoods – and drove home to Brooklyn. Mom and Dad and Irv and Doris Cohen had just come home from dinner, so after making ourselves vanilla sodas, Ronna and I went up to my room.
We lay in bed for an hour, and then suddenly something struck us and we made love, quickly and quietly. It was very rich and warm and we were both knocked out from our orgasms, so we sort of collapsed into a kind of half-sleep, having dreams and moments asleep in each other’s arms.
I just lay there wishing (and maybe so did she) that we lived together and could just fall asleep for the night like that. I liked the feeling of my erection pushing against her thigh, of her hand touching my hair.
We roused ourselves, made love again, and again collapsed together. Finally, at about 3 AM (or 2 AM Standard Time, since the clocks went back), I took Ronna home and came home myself to sleep deeply until early afternoon.
Tuesday, October 29, 1974
I just got off the phone with Ronna. She said that Ivan called last night and the call upset her so much that at midnight she had to phone (and wake up) Susan in New Brunswick.
I wish she had come to me instead, but I see that Susan was a much better choice. After all, Susan is more disinterested than I am and she can say things (like “Ivan is a nasty bastard and only using you when his ego needs boosting”) that I cannot, because they might sound like jealousy coming from me.
(And, yes, the things I might say would probably be motivated at least in part by jealousy. So God bless Susan Lerner; I must remember to be nicer to her.)
Ivan started in again with all the fond memories he has of Ronna, asked her to marry him – in jest, of course – and made her act foolishly, or so she said.
She told him, “It’s bad to have regrets,” and Ivan said, “What do you regret, Ronna?” and she answered, “Not buying tokens this morning” and changed the subject.
Ronna said she was plunging back into a fantasy that never really existed in reality: Ivan as Mr. Perfect, as God. (I have to admit that I fall for that, too. It’s what Doris Lessing calls “the Shadow of the Third”: I want to say to Ivan: “Teach me how to be you.”)
Oh, this is all such a stupid soap opera; these characters keep recurring and I wish they’d get killed off or else the show would be canceled or we could just start a fresh plotline.
Even the unsinkable Stacy gets into the act: Ivan told Ronna that he was at her house last weekend for Stacy’s birthday party, and he reported that “now that she’s once again into men, she’s trying to get her hooks into me again.”
Thank goodness I’m not sick enough to bother Vicky; I’m glad I didn’t say anything when I saw her on Sunday. I don’t want to get stuck in another triangle, quadrangle, pentangle again.
I realize various emotional strains are involved in all these things. Ronna and I are no longer as close as we had been (and have I accepted that?) and I don’t want to see Ivan just walk in and pick up the pieces.
Also, I’m hurt that Stacy didn’t include me in her birthday party – even as I agree with Avis when she calls Stacy “an individual worth staying away from.”
(A bulletin just came over the radio: Nixon is in critical condition after going into shock following surgery. What a world!)
Yet I encouraged Ronna to be friends with Ivan, partly because of my guilt over Shelli. Now I wonder if Shelli and I haven’t done the right thing in not continuing to have contact with each other.
Ronna said if she finds she can’t deal with Ivan, she’ll have to avoid him, too, the way Shelli and I avoid each other.
One point more: I’m also Ronna’s friend, apart from anything else, and I don’t like to see anyone upset her. In fact, precisely becauseit’s Ivan, I’m holding back criticism and bending over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Work went slowly today; I don’t know how much longer I can keep on this job. Afterwards, I rushed over to the college for today’s Fiction Workshop. We did Josh’s story today, about a comet destroying the earth; I didn’t like it, but I was in the minority.
I had dinner with Simon and Denis after class, and we discussed impotence. Denis said he sometimes thinks of baseball scores to keep from coming, that he’s “perpetually horny,” and rarely impotent. Simon said, “It seems to me that there should be a way that sex is an enjoyable thing.”
I drove Simon to his lady shrink; I’m still terribly jealous of his therapy. I could use Mrs. Ehrlich on a night like tonight.
I’m very worried about Grandpa Herb’s surgery tomorrow. He’s nervous because they want to insert a tube in his penis and he’s annoyed because they’ve moved him into a new room four times. I pray that Grandpa Herb’s surgery goes better than Nixon’s did.
Thursday, October 31, 1974
It’s almost midnight, and except for a sore throat, I’m feeling fine. It’s positively delicious to know that I don’t have to get up early and go to work tomorrow.
As Gary said about working at Alexander’s when I talked with him last night, “It’s not exactly a job for a Mensa member.” Or a Phi Beta Kappa, either, but times are hard and jobs scarce.
But I just can’t take the boredom and insanity of working at Alexander’s; if I have to do something like that for the rest of my life, I’ll go mad. Look, why be falsely modest? I am a person of great intelligence, sensitivity and creativity. Maybe I’d be happier if I were an average guy, but the fact is, I’m not, and I couldn’t change even if I wanted to.
For years I used to pretend to be scatterbrained and dumb, but that was an act whose purpose was (1) to make people believe I was inferior in intelligence so they’d like me more and maybe even look out for me, and (2) to get people to open up more to me and say things they might not say to someone they thought was a genius.
I am so tired of pretending to be what I am not.
Last night I had a very bad nightmare: I dreamed I was the witness to the real-life murder of a soap opera actor, and I couldn’t stop it; I had to look on at that awful moment of gunfire and blood splattering everywhere.
I woke up and was actually afraid. Also, I found that during the night my Phi Beta Kappa plaque had fallen onto the bed and was at my toes.
Last night I finally reached Gary. Our schedules don’t seem to mesh and we hardly talk anymore. But he’s got his own life now, and it includes Columbia and sociology and Kay, and I’ve got a different life. Still, I don’t want to lose touch with Gary.
After work today, I went to BC, catching up with Josh. We went to Baumbach’s office and I turned in the Brian Swann manuscript – I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it – and he gave me another manuscript to report on for the Fiction Collective.
In class today, we discussed Barbara’s story “Commitment.” From talking to Avis, I knew it to be strictly autobiographical: how, after Barbara was in the house for three years, her parents and lawyer brother wanted to commit her, and her younger sister Joanne fought them.
I thought the tone of the first-person narrative was too impersonal, but maybe I was biased by own experience and expected a different kind of story. I sort of wanted her to write about the horror of being at the mercy of a horrible, all-consuming phobia like that, the terror of living, being a prisoner in your own home.
I think back to my own self-exile or breakdown or whatever it was – roughly the period between September 1968 and May or June of 1969 – and I see that I’ve blocked out so much.
It was the worst time of my life, and looking back at it from the perspective of five years and many hours of therapy and self-examination, I still cannot pinpoint exactly why it happened, or even why I snapped out of that state and decided to live.
As big a mystery as it is to me, as much as I don’t want to explore it, I know that time of my life will always be a part of me and that somewhere I will always fear going back to the stage.
After class, I had dinner at the Pub with Barbara, Denis and Simon. Simon’s woman-friend Naomi moved in with him, and he’s not all that crazy about the idea.
Prof. Heffernan kept us so late with her boring ramblings that when I looked for Alice after our American lit class, I realized I must have missed her. So I visited Josh in the Purchasing office for a while and then decided to go home.
I got a glimpse of Stacy and started following her, but she darted into Whitehead and I lost her. Despite myself, I’d still like to talk with her and learn what makes Stacy tick.
After knowing her vaguely for three years as an acquaintance, a friend, a date, and someone I went to bed with – and after seeing her go through relationships with Melvin, Mason, Allan, Ivan, Leroy, Timmy, a couple of women and others – I still find Stacy a fascinating enigma.