A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1974
by Richard Grayson
Monday, December 2, 1974
I went to Avis’s house directly after work today. She called me last night and asked if I could take her to the airport tomorrow.
I agreed, of course, and a few minutes later Libby called to find out if she and Mason could come along; I told them to meet me in LaGuardia at 5 PM.
Knowing from Mara and Costas that Melvin had been away for the weekend, I asked Libby if she had been away for the weekend.
“Sort of,” she said, giggling. “Mason’s parents were away and I spent the weekend at his house.” Mason must be floating on air.
In Sheepshead Bay, Avis showed me her parents’ new apartment and we had soup and crackers for lunch. She told me that on Saturday she had seen Jerry and Shelli and “they’re ecstatically happy but very weird.”
They’re into “glitter” and all the rest of that scene. They have an “open” marriage (I’m sure they never read that fine book and only know it means sleeping with other people), which Avis figures was the outcome of Jerry’s homosexual feelings.
So it’s really true. It’s very ironic, when you think of it. Shelli even mentioned to Avis that they go out dancing and “pick out each other’s trick for the night.” Avis said she didn’t care to follow up on that.
But she also said that while Shelli and Jerry seem to spend a lot of time and money going out dancing and listening to loud black music, they look and sound happy.
Shelli, Avis reported, has never looked better. She and Jerry are all done up, in platform shoes and self-described “fag” haircuts. Leon especially wanted Avis to join all of them dancing, but Avis isn’t into that, which makes me feel secure. (Avis said she felt “straight” next to them.)
Avis said she got a farewell call from Scott, who mentioned that he’d heard from me. Scott’s European diplomat’s daughter dropped him “because I’m too young.”
Avis herself was in quite a state. I’ve known her for years now, and I’ve rarely seen her so nervous. She’s much worse than she was last June, and back then, things were even more uncertain.
(Although in June she was traveling with Glen, who was a comfort to her. She has not heard from him in many months. Glen flew out to attend UCLA, came back the next day, and has been holed up at home since. His parents say he won’t come to the phone, so Avis figures he’s having a nervous breakdown.)
Avis’s period is three days late and her stomach’s been very rocky and she has to take three Tylenols to get to sleep every night. When I arrived, she was on her third joint of the day, and I expect her to be stoned out of her mind by tomorrow.
She showed me her loom and I read her some of my stories, which she seemed to enjoy, but probably not as much as I did. Other writers wince when they have to look at their work, but I take pleasure in my own stories. That may indicate either that they’re very bad or very good.
And Avis talked about Helmut. Last night she had her first dream about him since she’s been back in the U.S. She’s also scared of flying since her plane from Montreal this September was hit by lightning. But I think she’ll make it all right.
We went out to Nostrand Avenue to buy her some makeup and vitamin A (she, too, uses it for her skin) and stomach remedies. I told her to take it easy. She was hoping Teresa would come by tonight “so I won’t have to be alone with Stone Face”: her guilt-inspiring mother. I hugged her goodbye and told her to take it easy.
It’s funny how I’ve been hearing so much lately about what other people are doing. I enjoy being an observer; I did the I Am a Camera thing. Lately, I’ve been trying to concentrate on other people because it’s what makes me happy.
It’s not hard to explain: since I’ve broken up with Ronna, I have all this need to give – you might call it love – and no one person to give it so, so I’m spreading it around.
It’s not an unhealthy thing, for I’m also giving a lot to myself: I’ve never felt more creative, more energetic, more able to cope with things than I have in these past few weeks.
I am actually anticipating the future with eagerness while enjoying the present. Last night I dreamed that Melvin and I were out in the first snow of the year, and it felt so good.
Wednesday, December 4, 1974
Yesterday ended up to be a pleasant day; I think I just had to subject myself to a little self-therapy, and afterwards I was fine. It was good to be in the Fiction Workshop again.
Baumbach paid me a compliment by saying that he might have to be at a book sales conference next week and he wondered if I could take over his Tuesday undergraduate Fiction Writing course.
I agreed enthusiastically, but he said he would first try to have Spielberg attend in his stead. I’ll find out tomorrow definitely, but I was so pleased that Baumbach thought of me before any of the others in the class.
Yesterday we went over Josh’s story, and none of us really liked it; Josh has this sense of humor that doesn’t fit fiction, and I felt bad because Josh seems to be getting discouraged about his writing.
We also went over my story, “A Ward of the State of Connecticut,” and just as I figured, no one was quite sure if it was supposed to be realistic or a parody. Still, it’s a good exercise for me at this stage to try different things.
After class, Simon, Denis, Todd and I went to Sugar Bowl. On the way, I ran into Vito with some of his gay friends; we said we must call each other, and I feel bad that we’ve lost touch. But next term Vito will be going to grad school at BC, and I hope to see more of him.
After an English muffin and a lime rickey, I headed for LaGuardia, where I found Mason and Libby signing the back of a lovely lithograph Libby had made for Avis.
They went over to Melvin’s to drop off some of Libby’s things; I don’t know if there’s any tension between Mason and Melvin, but I said I’d get the car and pick them up. I spoke to Melvin on the intercom when I got to his building and he said he’d send them down.
We found Avis at her door, wearing her movie-star sheepskin coat, all ready to go – especially so because she wanted to leave without running into her mother. Avis did say her lunch with her father went very well; he understands what Avis is doing in going back to Germany, but he also understands his wife’s point of view.
Mason and I carried Avis’s bags, which were heavy, and on the way to the airport we all smoked grass. When we got to the Icelandic terminal, Avis checked in and we picked up this guy who was also going on her flight, Bill Pfeffer, a good-natured 6’7” football player from Cincinnati, and took him along with us to get a drink.
Teresa arrived as only Teresa can, making an entrance. She was in a terrific mood, for when she got home today from her job as a production assistant at a chemical publishing firm, she found a dozen roses and Shasta daisies waiting for her.
The flowers were from Ted, who’d come in for the weekend from Palo Alto; they spent time together before he returned to the Coast. Ted is 35, in a wheelchair, and married (but it’s an open marriage).
Teresa kept trying to figure out what the inscription on the card – “Your beautiful T” – meant; it could be interpreted in several ways, depending on the (mis)spelling and (lack of) punctuation.
We had a good time gossiping and chatting with Bill, who pretended to know the people we were talking about: Elspeth, Beverly, Karin. Finally, around 8 PM, there was an announcement and the passengers lined up to board the plane.
We all gave Avis great big hugs and told her to have a great time in Germany; the other people must have thought she was a rock star and we were her fan club. Teresa and Libby led, and in my car Mason and I followed, as we went to Pizza City on Cross Bay Boulevard for something to eat.
The four of us had a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed being with Teresa, Libby and Mason. Once again, we divided up, and I took Mason home to Rockaway over the Cross Bay Bridge and Teresa took Libby to Park Slope on her way home to Williamsburg.
When we were alone, Mason said he’s happier now that he’s back with Libby again. On the bus this morning, he met Stacy and told her he’s stopped playing mind games, and Stacy seemed to think that was an impossible thing for any of us to do. Maybe Stacy’s right.
Before we went to Mason’s house, we dropped by Stefanie’s, but nobody was home. I wanted to find out how Stefanie is doing and asked Mason if he’d spoken to her; he said she walked over to his house this weekend, but Libby was there so they couldn’t talk.
Thursday, December 5, 1974
I didn’t go to work today, instead calling up to say I had to go to a funeral. I felt I owed myself some time because last night was the first time was the first time in a long time that I cried myself to sleep.
Last evening I felt restless after I wrote in my diary and went to a showing of Suspicion at the college. When I returned home, Gary called. “I have a Kafkaesque story to tell you,” he said.
That morning, he went to hand in his student loan application and he was led down a corridor to some man a a desk whose swivel chair was turned to the back.
The man swiveled around, and it was Leon, beaming broadly. Gary was stunned, as he remembered how much Leon had hated him, and here he was, now in charge of Gary’s academic future.
But Gary said Leon has “undergone a complete personality change.” He was not just civil to Gary – which he’d never been at Brooklyn College – but Leon was actually friendly and they ended up chatting for an hour about this and that. When Gary left his office, they shook hands warmly.
After he told me that story, Gary said, “I have a problem I want to discuss with you.” It seems he found a letter from Prof. Beveridge which said, “I haven’t been overly impressed with Gary’s intelligence or skill. . .”
It hurt him, and it also confused him, for Beveridge always tells Gary how bright he is. I tried to soothe his hurt and show him his options for dealing with the situation.
I am better at dealing with other people’s problems than I am my own.
On Monday, Alice told me everything was fine, because she met Charles and he turned out to be a dud: old and not very interesting. She ran home from their blind date to call Andreas and say she loved him. And she thanked me for my advice, which she found helpful.
Anyway, just as I was thinking that Ronna would never call me, she did; she said it was to wish me a happy half-birthday. She was friendly and mentioned that Ivan had come over on Monday night.
He had called her and said that he had been scheduled to take a dance lesson with Vicky and her parents but was too tired to go. But then his brother was driving to Canarsie to see his own girlfriend, and Ivan decided to tag along and come over to Ronna’s.
Ivan brought photos of his new nephew – his sister-in-law had a boy – and he had coffee with Ronna, her mother and sister.
Ronna has made the transition to being my friend so quickly that she started saying, “He looked so tall and he’s as gorgeous as ever…” before she realized she should bite her tongue.
Ronna wasn’t talking about Ivan that way to hurt me, but I realized that despite all the time we spent together, Ivan can still affect her more than I ever could. And I think Ivan is interested in her. He must know we’ve broken up: he canceled out on Vicky to see Ronna, and he says he wants to see Ronna again.
I suddenly felt like I’d been only a stand-in for Ivan for two years, sort of a kindly regent watching over the kingdom until the rightful heir, Prince Charming, was back from his travels.
I can’t be tall or dashing or charming like Ivan. As I told Simon yesterday, “So far I’ve been left for a faggot, a dyke, and no one.” Women – even Ronna – see me mostly as a friend, a confidant, but no one has ever been passionately in love with me.
I used to joke that I lived in the suburbs of passion – a line I heard on the soap opera Somerset – but I want someone to be crazy about me, the way other girls are about their boyfriends.
After hanging up with Ronna, I cried a lot, and when I fell asleep, I dreamed about Governor-elect Rhodes of Ohio. When I woke up and thought about it, I knew why: he was governor for two terms in the 1960s, but he was defeated in a 1970 Senate primary two days after Kent State happened.
Then, this year, Rhodes ran against the present Governor, Gilligan. On election night, Gilligan was declared the winner, Rhodes conceded and went to bed – but in the morning it turned out that Rhodes had won after all.
It was because the voters of Ohio were nostalgic for past good times, and Gov. Gilligan called the election “just a repudiation of me.” I feel that Ivan and I are Rhodes and Gilligan; Ronna likes me, but Ivan excites her magically, effortlessly.
So this morning I drove back to that beach on the North Shore of Long Island. I had a little trouble finding it, but I was determined to get there.
It was cold but bright out, and I stood on the beach and buried Ronna’s pictures and the poem “Here and Now” – the one she wrote for Ivan after they broke up – in the sand at Ransom Beach.
I took all those things out of my wallet – finally – and said goodbye to my two years of loving Ronna, my two years of living in Ivan’s shadow.
Friday, December 6, 1974
You can’t cry forever. You’ve got to go on with the business of living. Last night, in our discussion of Ellison’s Invisible Man, Prof. Heffernan said that sometimes just getting through life is what’s important: just making it to the next day.
In Sugar Bowl at dinner, I was angling for some sympathy, so I told Simon that no one had ever really loved me. “Tough luck!” he said, and we both broke up laughing.
It was either his choice of words or the jaunty way he said it, but it was the best remark anyone could have responded with.
Today at work, I was fooling around with a one-year-old boy in a carriage. He was dark blond and chubby, and he reminded me of myself. As his mother wheeled him away, he blew me a kiss. It was such an extraordinary gesture, like a blessing.
So maybe I don’t get passion – but I do get love from babies. Bob Wouk used to say that we must take love the way it is offered to us; we can’t just wait for our kind of love to come along, ready-made. So I’m not angry with Ronna for being unable to love me in the way she loves Ivan.
I realize, as I told Jonny, that I’m responsible for my life and that I chose Ronna, as I chose other people, who couldn’t possibly love me the way I wanted to be loved. I knew all about Ronna and Ivan when I got involved with her, so I can’t accuse her of misleading me.
No, if our relationship consisted of scenes from a mirage, it was because I had the blinders on. I guess my actions yesterday – in going out to Long Island and burying that stuff in the sand – were a bit melodramatic, but I think they helped me.
Action is the cure for depression, and I want to symbolically put Ronna in my past. I left my name and address with the things, and I wrote, “Perhaps some kind person might return this to me someday.”
I have to admit it’s an idea I got from two movies: in Harold and Maude, she throws his token of love into the ocean so she’ll always know where it is, and in The Odessa File, the old Jew writes that if anyone finds his manuscript, would they be kind and say Kaddish for him.
And when and if I get that stuff back, it will be summertime and I’ll be able to handle it again. I wanted to come to grips with reality, which is why I went back to Ransom Beach, where the myth of “the re-creation of We” was strongest, to bury those things in the sand.
That’s also why I wanted to see the shopping center, Munsey Park, where I broke down on that Sunday. And I’ve replaced my neck-chain peace symbol, which I’ve worn for four and half years (since my nineteenth birthday), with a shell I found on the beach. I wanted to tear myself away from the past.
Speaking of the past, I saw Billy Sherman in the Sugar Bowl last night while I was eating with Todd, Denis and Simon. He looked the same as he did all those years I knew him from second grade to senior year of high school, so I went to his table and said, “Are you Billy?”
“Richie Grayson!” he said, and stuck out his hand. What have you been doing these past seven or eight years? we asked each other, and we both answered “Nothing.”
Billy’s finishing his B.A. at night so he can go to law school – I thought I remembered that he got into Cornell but I guess that didn’t work out – and days he’s working at his dad’s funeral parlor. It was nice to see him again. We were really close in junior high and even before that.
Yesterday at my tutorial, Baumbach gave me his undergraduate class roster and the stories we’ll be covering on Tuesday. I’m pretty excited about my first experience as a college instructor although I’m quite nervous about not making a fool of myself.
Baumbach felt “Garibaldi” was a very good story and commented that I’m finding my writer’s “voice” and that I write about academic life as if I’ve been teaching at a university for fifteen years.
In class, everyone agreed that my “The Jet” was a successful mood piece. Like most of my stuff recently, its subject was the process of writing itself.
As I said, we had dinner in Sugar Bowl (Sid and Cara were at the next table and asked after Ronna) and went from there to Heffernan’s class.
Then at SUBO, I attended an Alumni Association Board of Directors meeting. Elaine gave me the figures on the Playbill and we made a profit of $265 so I don’t feel so bad for not doing much work on it.
At the meeting, I sat with Maddy and her mother and Richie Greenberg and listened to the usual comedy – but it wasn’t so bad. At least I’m functioning.
Sunday, December 8, 1974
It’s been a dreary day, what with my cold still flourishing and rain all day. We’ve all been cooped up in the house and there are some tensions about. Actually, I suppose a couple of years ago, a day like today could have thrown me into a real depression. But now I quietly cope.
Actually, my cold could be a lot worse; I managed to get some sleep last night, and I’ve been taking vitamin C, which seems to be minimizing the symptoms.
I’ve had Ronna on my mind a lot, but I don’t intend to call her. Either we talk of inconsequential things and I feel down because we’re on such an impersonal level, or else we talk frankly of our feelings and I end up feeling hurt.
The thing of it is, I still cannot really understand the reason we broke up. I now feel that Ronna wasn’t completely honest with me about her feelings. She seems to have no difficulty adjusting to a life without me, and it hurts to know that you don’t make as much a difference in a person’s life as you thought you did.
I’m hurt, I’m angry, and I’m confused. Now I am certain that there is no turning back, for the way Ronna has behaved during our breakup and after it has proven that she’s not the person I thought she was.
But after two years of thinking that you love someone, of responding to her body, it’s difficult to change. That’s why Ronna wanted to stop seeing me, I think, because our relationship was becoming a habit.
But as Pushkin says in Eugene Onegin: “Habit is Heaven’s own redress / It takes the place of happiness.”
There are a great many other people in the world, and I’ll use what I’ve learned from my relationship with Ronna – as well as my relationships with others – in whatever comes next.
I am convinced that I will love again, but that it may take a while. I’m not certain that I want to fall in love immediately. Maybe I should experiment for several months: be alone, see new people, have infatuations. The Age of Possibilities may not be such a bad thing after all.
I still do not quite know what to do with my libido. Yesterday, while I was buying vitamin C at the health food store, I saw a boy, about 16 or 17: he was wearing a rock-group T-shirt and he had the most beautiful muscles; I could see the outline of a great chest under the shirt.
I’ve noticed I have these fleeting strong sexual feelings for men – straight guys always, usually younger than 20 – while it seems I reserve my more tender, loving feelings for girls (or women – I’ve learned to say “women” from Avis).
Could my bisexuality be as simple as sometimes wanting to be dominant and sometimes wanting to be dominated?
Last night I reread Peter DeVries’ Forever Panting, and I was even more impressed with the book than I had been before. He manages to be hilariously funny while in the end makes a very serious statement about human life.
Simon called this afternoon, asking if I wanted to go to this bar in Manhattan and meet with other writers; there had been this ad in the Voice that he saw. I declined, because I still felt a bit wretched from my cold. But I would like to see more of Simon, and we talked for a while about writing and other things.
I also spoke to Josh. I know he feels the class is hard on his stuff and I feel our friendship is cooling off because I’ve been “more successful” in the MFA program than he. I don’t like the idea of that.
Dad came into my room when I woke up, bringing me rock candy, cough drops, and an envelope. Inside was a Chanukah card and a one-dollar bill; that’s the New Depression for you. But I hadn’t been expecting anything and I had not known that Chanukah began tonight.
I don’t want to go to work tomorrow, but Mr. Cestare doesn’t like the idea of people taking off. I didn’t come in on Thursday and if I’m absent tomorrow, it may mean my job. How people have to lower themselves for needed money. That’s the real vulgarity in life.
Tuesday, December 10, 1974
5 PM. Today was about the ultimate high for me. At the moment, I feel on top of the world. The whole course of my life seems to make sense: I feel, as Denis said about my stories today, that I’m “definitely going in the right direction.”
I guess the true test of how far I’ve come was the fact that before taking over Baumbach’s undergrad creative writing class today, I wasn’t even nervous. I did go down to Boylan bookstore’s Sweet Shop to get some confidence from Sue (who I find a nicer ex-girlfriend’s sister than Sindy ever was), but that was it, really.
Deep down I was confident because I knew all I had to do was be natural, be myself: even if I did fail, I felt it would not be a personal rejection. However, I was not prepared to succeed as well as I did.
Perhaps an added boost to my confidence was that in today’s mail I received a note from Constance Glickman, the editor of New Writers magazine. She said she found “Rampant Burping” a very funny story and said it was under consideration for publication.
So, armed with another shred of evidence that I am a talented writer after all, I entered 3153 Boylan Hall for English 15.2. Baumbach had told the class that a graduate student was coming to take it over, so no one was very surprised by my presence.
We put two desks together and sat around them; one of the kids told me that was what they usually did. There were about ten people in the class, nine guys and a girl; most were serious because it was an advanced fiction writing class.
Denis and Josh showed up to smirk, but they didn’t sit in the back very long, because they soon realized that there would be nothing to smirk about after I began to read the woman’s story aloud.
Anna is a chubby little Italian girl who keeps her eyes lowered and talks softly. Her story, “Give a Little, Take a Little,” was an autobiographical piece about her relationship with an athletic Coast Guardsman: very platonic and little-girlish and rather teasing. But somehow Anna’s style was enchanting, using words in odd juxtapositions and contexts.
“Who wants to start?” I said, as Baumbach does, after reading the story, and we went around the table giving comments. I went last, and somehow, miraculously, I felt that I was being listened to intently.
Next, I read a story by this guy John, a bearded, redheaded Vietnam vet who’s very into the idea of being a writer (I believe he’s one of those who can make it through sheer will power). The class’s comments on his story were remarkably perceptive, and there was really little I could add.
I know I have a wider range of literary background than they did, and I used it, but I didn’t talk down to them, and they laughed at my jokes. (John’s story was about writers and suicide, and I said, “What makes you think Hemingway killed himself? He was merely cleaning the barrel of his rifle with his tongue.”)
After the discussion petered out, I dismissed the class, but they stayed a while and talked with me anyway. At least three people said they preferred my animated, oral-interp reading to Baumbach’s monotone, which he employs deliberately to avoid any of his own interpretations on the story.
Tremendously flattered, I walked out with Joey and Stan from the class – two bright, attractive guys – as we discussed writing and other things. Then I walked around the campus in a wonderful daze: I couldn’t believe they all didn’t walk out of the class or just not listen to me.
And when Baumbach arrived for our class, I told him honestly that I thought it was robbery for me to accept money for doing what I just did: “I’d pay someone to let me do that every week.”
I really do want to teach college; I’ve always thought so, but now I’m certain. In Fiction Workshop, the class’s unanimous raves for “Garibaldi in Exile” seemed almost anticlimactic.