A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Monday, November 11, 1974
I’m bone-tired tonight, after a somewhat hectic day at work.
Last night’s phone call to Ronna went very well indeed, considering the somewhat difficult circumstances. We discussed movies and books and kept the conversation at a chatty, gossipy level, yet always full of fondness.
Of our own relationship, nothing was said, basically because nothing further needed saying. I did tell her I’d been a bit nervous about phoning her, and she dispelled any anxiety I had on that score very quickly.
And she did allow how she was feeling a bit down on Saturday night and resorted to baking bread as therapy; I told her I thought there was a great deal of merit in that. I like Ronna so much and I want to be her friend.
She’ll be going to New Brunswick this coming weekend, so we wouldn’t have seen each other anyway. I hung up the phone feeling good about things.
Avis called soon after that, saying she’d just come to realization that she’s leaving America three weeks from tomorrow and hasn’t seen me in a month. We made tentative plans to get together this weekend.
Avis is still pissed because she hasn’t heard from Helmut, but other friends have written that they’ll be glad when she returns to Bremen in December, so apparently Helmut knows she’s coming and doesn’t disapprove.
In any case, she sent him out a letter saying that she’s giving her two weeks’ notice at work next Monday and that if he doesn’t want her to come, he should cable immediately.
Avis is getting more proficient in German. She keeps entering the New York State Lottery in hopes of amassing a fortune, and she’s finally stopped reading depressing biographies of women like Janis Joplin and Virginia Woolf because she was starting to develop their symptoms.
I told Avis to take care of herself and that I would call her soon. It’s over two years ago that I thought I was in love with Avis, and as I’ve said before, “Thinking you’re in love is as good as being in love.”
I’ve always been glad I never let Avis know I loved her that way, but now I wonder: maybe we could have remained friends anyway.
Today was crazy at the store, with all the bargain-hunters after the various Veterans Day sales. When Mr. Cestare asked me if I could work extra hours before Christmas, I said I could do it only two days a week because of school; he said he would arrange it for just those two days. This week my day off will be Thursday, which is fine with me, as it’s such a long day anyway.
After work, I drove out to Rockaway to see how Grandpa Herb was recovering. He was well enough to answer the door and walk around. He’s even cut down cigarette smoking, but he’s still in considerable pain.
Grandma Ethel made us supper while I read Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses on the terrace; it’s a difficult book and I want to finish it by Thursday’s class. By the time it turned dark, the meal was ready: lentil soup, mashed potatoes, hamburgers, vegetables and homemade cookies.
Grandma Ethel said that Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney must be in their new home in Florida by now. I saw a get-well card for Grandpa Herb from them that said, “Now that you are feeling better, we are whistling ‘Dixie.’”
I left the Sarretts’ and went across Beach 105th Street to visit Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat, whom I had not seen in a long time. When I arrived, they were just finishing dinner. As she cleaned up, I noticed that Grandma Sylvia hardly has to use her canes anymore. Her artificial hip is working well.
Grandpa Nat and I sat in front of the TV and watched the news, which these days is almost all about the economy, and almost all the news is bad. It’s Hard Times all over again.
Grandpa Nat was outraged when Walter Cronkite said that 23 million Americans are hungry because they’re poor. Despite having been rich enough to be a millionaire, Grandpa Nat is still almost as much a socialist as Grandpa Herb.
Thursday, November 14, 1974
1 PM. I’ve just come back from Rockaway, which is where I seem to end up whenever I’ve got some heavy thinking to do about my life.
As I walked toward the beach, I felt the wind blowing against me. It was a fiercer wind than I had ever known, but it was also bright and sunny out. And as I managed to make my way to the boardwalk, which was deserted, and see the neatly rippled sand and the waves crashing onshore, I felt exhilarated, triumphant in some way.
And I thought to myself, maybe crazily: This is the most complete moment of my life. It felt so good I couldn’t bear to stay there for more than a few minutes – but going to Rockaway only reinforced the good feelings I’ve been having since last night.
The Bisexual Liberation party turned out to be a positive experience in a way I could never have predicted. I got up to Morningside Heights and Elihu’s apartment at 8 PM, when he was on the phone talking to Avis’s sister Ellen.
She’s still working at the Carnegie Hall Cinema three days a week and is also a secretary for PBS’s The Electric Company. Ellen is going with a guy who was totally homosexual until seeing her, so she didn’t want to hear about bisexuality.
When he got off the phone, Elihu said that Allan had gone to Brooklyn with Leon to have dinner at Leon’s aunt’s house.
Shelli had called earlier in the evening; she and Jerry are in town because her aunt died. (That explains all the cars in front of her parents’ home when I passed by on Kings Highway on Monday night.)
Elihu figured that later in the evening Shelli and Jerry would meet up with Leon and Allan and they’d go out to a gay bar as usual.
After Elihu and I drove down to West 85th Street, we had a comedy as we decided whether to go in or not. We were put off by the fact that it was an apartment building and not a house and we stalled, waiting in front of the building to see if people were going to go in.
A kid about 19 in a leather jacket passed by and asked us if we had a light. After we said no, he kept walking but looked back.
“I thought he was going to mug us,” I said.
“No,” Elihu said, “I think he was cruising you. It’s a standard line in the gay world.”
After we walked to Broadway to telephone to see if the party was filled with more than two people, we finally went back to the building and went in. We were greeted by Dr. Fass, a psychologist and the leader of the Bisexual Liberation organization.
Elihu and I sat down on the floor in a darkened room. About fifteen people were there, and I talked with them and listened to their stories. One guy was a married Jewish businessman, and there was a couple, a very neurotic 21-year-old woman and her husband, a foreigner who could barely speak English.
The others were in their late thirties to early fifties. Elihu and I left the party at 10:30 PM and I told him we could have paid each other $2.50 and talked about bisexuality ourselves.
I asked Elihu if he was attracted to anyone he saw at the party, and he said with a snort that I was the most attractive one to him, and since he’d known me since we sat next to each other in Social Studies back when we were 16, that was pretty pathetic.
“I know the feeling,” I said.
I came up to Elihu’s apartment for a drink, and we agreed that nearly all of the people at the party seemed weird and sad. As I drove home, though, I began to think more about it. And I realized something strange: that perhaps I was falling in love with Ronna all over again.
I see all these people: the ones at the Bisexual Liberation party and people I know (Leon, Ellen, Avis, Jerry and Shelli) rushing about so desperately, going here and there in search of something. And I feel – honestly – that I have this something already.
It was an incredible revelation, and rather ironic, too: for just when I’ve broken up with Ronna, I discovered that our relationship was really what I wanted all along.
Now, I know I can live a full life without her, and maybe I’ll have to. But life was so much richer with her, and now I know that one day I wish to marry someone like Ronna, someone I can have a similar relationship with.
And I realized that when I’m confronted with reality, both my homosexual and heterosexual fantasies fade into nothingness. As I told Elihu, there was not one person last night at the party to whom I was attracted, and I kept thinking of Ronna, not out of habit, but because somehow, in some crazy way, I feel that she has the secret, too.
And I came to realize that the reason the couple in Portrait of a Marriage worked together so well really had nothing to do with their bisexuality. It was because Harold and Vita had mutual respect, honesty, and communication – all things I had with Ronna.
Friday, November 15, 1974
I wrote the following yesterday, on a pad of yellow legal paper:
I guess it’s about 2:30 PM. This has been one of the most incredibly beautiful days of my life. Right now I’m lying on the grass in Hempstead Lake State Park, feeling better than I can ever remember feeling. About a year ago, Ronna and I picnicked here. . .
The grass smells so good. The trees here are mostly bare but it seems beautiful – not in spite of their bareness but because of it. This good feeling won’t last; nothing does. But that doesn’t matter because it’s here, it does exist now – this paper is a record of that and it’s as real as anything I’ve ever experienced. . .
Driving here, I realized what a marvelous thing life is and how lucky I am to be alive. I stopped at a roadside phone to call Dad at “the place.” I wanted to tell him that I loved him. Why should we have to wait for birthdays or funerals to express our love?
My parents made terrible mistakes in raising me, but their intentions were oh so good and loving. Dad wasn’t in, so I called Mom and told her I loved her. She said she loved me too and she’d give Dad the message. Maybe I had to learn how much I hated my parents before I could express my love for them. . .
A leaf just settled near me. It’s ripped and brown, but somehow it seems so noble. I let it go to join the other leaves. . . At the moment I can feel only good things. I feel integrated, whole, sensitive, unique. Drugs could never do this, nor alcohol nor sex. It’s as if, for only an instant, I’ve discovered the secret of satisfactory living.
It can’t last; it might be unbearable if it did. I think, though, that this feeling will return again. No matter what happens to me, I can remember this moment and let it stand as a testament to whatever is good about the world. . .
I’ve just been jumping from one picnic table to another. I stopped at one table, and standing, I threw my arms out exultantly toward the sky. I have never, ever, felt so exhilarated.
I’ve been dancing on the tables, acting silly like a kid. There’s no one around but I don’t think I’d care if they could see me. I did a somersault (a somersault!) and sang out loud. My shirttail’s sticking out and I’m rolling in the grass and I feel great.
Maybe I’m crazy and this is insanity. If so, I want to go completely insane. Now I know what an epiphany is.”
It’s now over 24 hours later; it’s 3:30 PM on Friday. The euphoria is gone completely now, and in fact, I’m quite anxious about this evening. I’m going to a dinner at Leon’s new apartment with Mason and Avis, and I’m feeling skittish as to how everything will go.
But I will always treasure the memories of yesterday, as I will always cherish the memory of my relationship with Ronna. I am afraid the latter is indeed gone for good.
When I spoke to Ronna at midnight, I told her all these things and she still felt that she was happier not seeing me, and I have no choice but to withdraw my plans for a future with her.
It makes me sad, but I know I have me to love for a while. And I believe that in the future I will meet another person like Ronna.
Surprisingly, yesterday’s good feelings lasted all through dinner with Mom and Dad, and through Heffernan’s class – we talked about Go Down, Moses, and it was the first time I really contributed a lot to the discussion – and finally to a riotous scene at Campus Corner with Denis and Simon.
Whenever the three of us hear of something odd or interesting happening, we shout, in turn, “Write it up!” and then “Send it out!” and then “Get it back!”
Right now my sinuses ache and I could use some of yesterday’s happiness. But that’s how life goes.
Saturday, November 16, 1974
Last evening turned out to be very pleasant, as I should have known it would. I picked up Mason at the college and we drove off to Manhattan to meet Avis.
Mason, as always, was congenial traveling partner. I could talk to him easily about Ronna and other stuff. When I told him that Ivan told Ronna that Stacy has her hooks out for him, Mason laughed.
He was at Stacy’s birthday party, too, and he said that Stacy hardly paid any attention to Ivan: “He was just bullshitting about all the things he was going to do and how he was going to make his first zillion.”
Mason remarked how funny it was when different people perceive the same reality and come up with such diverse conclusions. It’s truly weird.
We found Avis huddled against a midtown office building; even from a distance, we recognized her by her long dark hair and orange down jacket, and we rescued her from the 5 PM crowds rushing about Lexington Avenue.
It took a long time to get up to Morningside Heights because of the traffic – Mason and Avis were surprise at my deft use of Italian curses at pedestrians – but we passed the time talking.
Avis and I were a bit concerned because we weren’t sure that Leon would appreciate our coming, but Mason assured us that Leon had affirmed to him that he wanted to see us both, even admitting that he had badly misjudged Avis.
It was the first really cold night of the season and it was dark by the time we got to Leon’s apartment on West 123rd Street and Riverside Drive. We entered the building’s weird, de Chirico-like courtyard and approached Leon’s door; he didn’t appear to be surprised that Avis and I had come along.
Leon looked well: his hair is shorter than formerly, his beard is growing in, and I especially liked his suspenders. His apartment was very cozy, with a brass bed he brought from Madison; books everywhere, of course; two cats, Motor and Boxcar; and film posters everywhere.
Leon was in the kitchen, preparing a spaghetti dinner while Mason and Avis were listening to old Eric Clapton records and munching on apples, crackers and cheese.
I went in to see Leon alone, and he said, “How’re you doing, Richie?” in a way that conveyed that he meant that he was really interested, and I nodded my head smilingly, as I’ve always done with him.
We all sat on chairs and a couch surrounding a bridge table and had Leon’s very good spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and wine. Leon took out grass and we had many joints; I hadn’t smoked so much in quite a while, but it was nice, sharing it with friends. I suppose we were an unlikely foursome, but to my mind the evening went very well.
Leon is great to listen to, whether the story he’s telling is about his job at Columbia (he’s in charge of processing graduate applications and financial aid in the Sociology Department – wait till I tell Gary!) or a Pakistani rubbing against him in the subway (Leon told the man, “Your Khyber pass isn’t working,” and snatched off his glasses, getting off the train with them) or about his experiences working with retarded people in Madison.
Leon really came alive when he spoke about those people. You could see the experience working with them really affected him, just by that smiling look in his eyes. He worked with people on the lowest level, people on the level of two-year-olds, mostly Mongoloids – and he became their friend, related to them intimately, changed their diapers and cleaned up their diarrhea.
He even showed us photos of some of his favorite people from there; Leon admired their spirit, their innate sensibility. And I admire Leon very much for what he’s done and what he will do.
We smoked more dope and drank soda and talked about Virginia Woolf and the Middle East and LaGuardia Hall. Leon doesn’t think Skip is too happy in Syracuse: “All he does is work and work out.”
Avis spoke about her plans in Germany – I can’t believe she’s leaving again so soon – and then we all got pretty tired. Leon told Avis to have a great time in Bremen and gave Mason a record, a belated birthday present.
As we left the apartment, I took Leon’s arm and hugged him a thank-you. Avis fell asleep on the long drive back home; we woke her at her house and she kissed us good night and then I drove Mason to his house at the beach before coming home, feeling happy.
Sunday, November 17, 1974
Last Monday night, on my way home from Grandma Sylvia’s house, I noticed a dead cat lying on the overpass in Rockaway just before the bridge. I swerved to avoid it and tried not to think about it.
I passed the dead animal again on Thursday, and then on Friday night when I drove Mason home, and again yesterday when I went to the Peninsula library to get some books to study for Heffernan’s final. There was less of it left each time I saw it, and yesterday just a hint of fur remained on the asphalt.
For some reason I keep thinking of that dead cat. If this were a novel, it might be a symbol for something; but after all, this is my life, not some piece of fiction. Unless I’m a character trapped in some author’s unfinished novel, unable to break out. A crazy idea, isn’t it?
My back hurts from work; it’s curious – and somewhat ego-boosting – that I have to do most of the heavy lifting in our department in Alexander’s because I’m stronger than either Jimmy, the manager, or Billy, the stock boy.
I can’t get over what a nice time I had at Leon’s on Friday night. Leon said Allan is thinking about having a “LaGuardia Revival Party,” bringing everyone back together.
I’ve been thinking about LaGuardia Hall in terms of Faulkner. In class on Thursday evening, I made the statement (which Heffernan thought clever) that Faulkner is more a mythmaker than a novelist.
Somehow myths that everyone is familiar with are comforting to people, and they always have been: look at the Greeks and Romans and Hebrews.
And that’s really what old LaGuardia stories are, myths that people enjoy telling: stories about Ellen and Leon, or me and Shelli and Jerry, or the night the JDL stole the ballots or legends like Stanley’s long tenure as an undergraduate student, or the Safari Awards, or when Greg told Elspeth that he had the “noncontagious” form of syphilis. (I still remember Jerry putting an anonymous note in Elspeth’s mailbox, advising her to see a doctor.)
Incidentally, Leon said that he rarely saw Greg in Madison and that Greg’s studying in Hong Kong now. At Kieran and Sindy’s engagement party, Greg sat on my right and Ronna was on my left. . .
It can go on forever, I guess, one memory triggering another. It all comes down to a search for roots – for the womb, maybe. That’s probably why I want to capture all those moments in words.
Today Marc asked me questions about my diary and said it seemed a good idea to keep one and maybe I should have it published one day. It’s so sad, really, that I have Marc under the same roof as me every night, yet we’re practically strangers.
It wasn’t until 10 PM last night that I realized that Marc hadn’t gone away for the weekend; I never noticed his presence in the house before that. And I just learned that he’s going to a trade school to become a TV repairman. Everyone else has known that for weeks.
Last night I called “Allan Copper” (that’s how Jonny writes Allan’s name when Jonny takes phone messages); he was nursing a bad cold and I told him to feel better soon.
This afternoon Avis and I went into Manhattan. We wanted to go to the movies but couldn’t find parking and so we ended up at the Metropolitan Museum. Avis, a Classics major, explained to me things about ancient art, and we looked at the stuff the peddlers outside were selling, and we had a pretzel from a vendor on Fifth Avenue.
Afterwards, we went to Fulton’s for a bite. Avis got a letter from Helmut on Friday, and while he was much vaguer than she would have liked, he did say, “Helmut thinks things would be better for Helmut if Avis were here.”
I can’t believe she’ll be gone soon. I’ll miss Avis. I enjoy being with her and can talk to her easily – but I certainly want her to find happiness where she can. And she is buying a round-trip ticket tomorrow.
Monday, November 18, 1974
There was no trace of the dead cat when I drove home from Rockaway tonight. After I met Mason at the Junction this evening, I drove him home.
Sometimes one’s own difficulties blind them to the problems that others around them are having. I don’t know why I assumed that Libby’s relationship with Melvin hardly bothered Mason.
Tonight he told me it’s very hard for him to adjust to the situation, to being alone. I could kick myself for being so stupid on Friday at Leon’s, joking about how Elayne had to move out because she couldn’t stand Melvin’s visitors at all hours.
And then Avis started talking about Melvin sleeping over at her house while her parents were away – but at least she had the sense not to mention that he’d been in bed with Libby.
I should know better. After all, I remember that scene in the Pub three years ago when Allan and Ivan joked about seeing Shelli and Jerry screwing on Ivan’s waterbed. Now it seems funny, but that day I cried in the bathroom.
This morning Mason met Stefanie on the Rockaway bus, and he reported that she was “freaking out.” No wonder she seemed so desperate to have my company at the movies last month; once again, I let my own problems completely block out vibrations from other people.
On the bus, Stefanie suggested that she and Mason show Libby and Melvin that they can have fun, too. I cautioned Mason about getting involved with Stefanie just to get back at the others, and I told him I was tempted to go out with Elspeth after Shelli left me for Jerry but had enough sense to stay out of that.
I gave him money for a ticket to a dance recital at the college on Saturday night. We’ll go together and meet Stefanie there; this way I can act as a buffer between them. Mason said it was ironic that he almost took the apartment next to Libby’s instead of Melvin.
“Brooklyn is filled with ironies,” I said. “The best thing to do is forget them.” I was saying it less for Mason’s benefit than for my own.
Last evening Ronna called and we chatted about our doings, her weekend in New Jersey, etc. There was a long uncomfortable silence and she said, “Is there anything left unsaid?”
I said I guessed there was but that maybe it was better off left unsaid; if we aren’t close anymore, we really don’t need that kind of honesty. She said that made her feel sad, so I opened up.
I told Ronna I feel lonely and rejected, and it bothered me that she wasn’t suffering too. I said I hadn’t realized how unhappy she was in our relationship and that I sort of wanted to see her again and felt that she didn’t give a damn whether she ever saw me again or not.
Then Ronna said that on Friday night in New Brunswick, she felt so upset that she went outside, barefoot and without a coat, and started dancing frantically on Susan’s driveway. (It was so cold that night; I remember how Mason and Avis and I were shivering in my car, parked alongside Grant’s Tomb.)
Spencer made her come back in, and later he told Felicia that Ronna was one of the saddest people he had ever seen. Ronna was obviously ashamed of the incident, and it was hard for her to tell me about it, but it did make me feel better.
Not that I want her to suffer – but yes, I guess I do want to know that she’s having some difficulty over our breakup, as I am. There was just one thing I had to know: if she was still sexually attracted to me, as I am to her.
She said she was, and we parted with good words. We still have that tentative date for Sunday, too. But now I feel I must go on and continue making a new life for myself.
I am encouraged by the example of other people. Avis said Beverly, once so uptight about everything, is now very loose and relaxed in Boulder; she’s not even a virgin anymore.
And on Saturday at work, Mara said that Helen is extremely happy living in Culver City, California, and has decided that she won’t be coming back to New York in the future. If others can change their lives, so can I.