A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, January 1, 1975
I don’t feel any of the apprehension that used to mark every January 1. Last night I managed to survive being alone, and it hardly bothered me at all that I had only myself and a 13-year-old brother for company.
I read Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, which was the perfect book for me last night: an exquisite study of introspection. After finishing it, I took out my story “The Peacock Room” and reread it. I found the story moving, and despite what Baumbach and the class thought of it, I still believe in its worth.
After reading the story, I looked up and saw that it was almost midnight. I put on my bathrobe and went into Jonny’s room to watch the idiots in Times Square and those dancing to Guy Lombardo’s hotel music. It all seems so absurd, cheering a new year, applauding the passage of time.
It seems to me that one might just as well celebrate the movement of a glacier or the flow of a river. In fact, that seems to make more sense, for glaciers and rivers are natural phenomena while the end of the year is a mere artificial convention to mark the passage of time.
Anyway, I settled down to sleep at 1 AM, only to be awakened at 3 AM by the ringing of the phone. No one spoke, so I just said, “Happy new year,” and hung up. I slept well and felt fit when I got up this morning. Marc was just getting home when I woke up, and he looked really strung out.
Josh called at 10 AM, wanting to know if I would go with him to see the Impressionist exhibition at the Met. I said I was worried because I hadn’t done Heffernan’s paper and declined. But then I thought it over and I decided I’d write the darn thing tomorrow afternoon instead of going to Baumbach’s class.
So I called Josh back and said I’d be over in an hour. He and Robbie were having breakfast when I arrived. (Paul is now back with his ridiculous wife). They both seem to have had a quiet New Year’s Eve, too. Josh said he was planning to have an orgy but of course it never materialized.
On the ride to the Upper East Side, I told Josh everything about my feelings for Ronna, including that Sunday drive to the beach on the North Shore and how I broke down and cried.
He really seemed to understand, for after five months with Rachel, he’s pretty depressed, too. Basically Josh echoed the time-honored cliché about women: you are miserable with them and miserable without them.
The centenary exhibition of Impressionism was very good, one of the best art shows I’ve ever seen. We looked at the Monets and the Renoirs and Pissarros and Manets; they were all beautiful. I just wish I knew more about art.
The crowds at the museum are interesting to look at: everyone was so well-groomed, and there were more than a dozen people whom I was attracted to. If only I was the type of guy to be able to start conversations.
(There were two people today – one bearded, thin guy in a light blue shirt and one short girl with the most beautiful red hair – that I know I will always regret not speaking to.)
Driving back to Brooklyn, Josh and I discussed the MFA program (he’s not sure he’s getting anything out of it) and the people in it (this morning he called up Simon, waking him; Simon said he planned to sleep all day).
We had a late lunch on Ralph Avenue at Irwin’s Californian, which Dad said that Lennie has now sold, at a profit, to some Greeks.
After dropping Josh off, I came home to see the Rose Bowl interrupted by a verdict in the Watergate case: Mitchell, Haldeman and Erlichman were found guilty on all counts.
Thus the Watergate era is almost over and we are entering this New Depression, or whatever they choose to call it. On balance, 1974 was a good year for me personally, and I just hope that I can continue to grow in 1975.
I’ll be facing a year without a therapist or a girlfriend. But I have school and my writing and my friends and family, and I’m working right now. So we’ll just sit back and watch Life happen.
Thursday, January 2, 1975
I feel so deliciously happy tonight. It’s good to feel this way so early in the year; it destroys any superstitions I might have had about things not continuing to go well in 1975. I feel I’m an alive, productive, feeling human being – and what more can one ask for?
I got to work at the Voice office at 10 AM, and since Bobby was out sick, I took over his route, the West Side above 45th Street. It was an invigorating four hours, walking at least three miles and taking trains and buses all over that part of Manhattan.
I delivered at least fifteen envelopes or packages to United Artists, CBS, ad agencies, a nightclub and other places. There was time to pause a moment and watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center and get a glimpse of this year’s Christmas tree before they take it down.
At one point I found myself directly across from Sheila’s apartment on West 54th Street, so I rang the bell – but no one was home. I had known Sheila is in London spending the holidays with her parents, but I thought I might catch Scott in, for he’s staying there sometimes when he comes up from D.C.
(Later Mom told me Scott had called, saying he’d gone off somewhere and that he’d write.)
My feet got a little tired and my hair was a wreck from the wind, but I enjoyed working, seeing the business side of the city and earning some much-needed money, too. I left work at 2 PM and took the train to the Avenue H station, where I had parked my car.
Then I went on campus to get a burger at the newly-christened (the word is inappropriate) Kosher Country, where some guy named Boots thought I was Marc. “I’m not my brother,” I told him.
I was surprised at how glad I was to see Baumbach; he’s beginning to remind me a little of Dad, though at times I feel very annoyed with him. I suppose that, more than anyone else, he is my mentor. There was little to discuss at our tutorial since I hadn’t written anything over the vacation.
We walked over to our class, and I told him about seeing Scenes from a Marriage with Simon and going to the museum with Josh; he’s glad we see each other outside of school.
Todd didn’t show up, and his was the only story we hadn’t done yet, so we all just bullshitted about films and novels. Denis wasn’t there today, either, and I suspect he’s still vacationing.
Even though Simon called me a “traitor” for not hanging around to eat dinner with him, I went home after class; I wanted to take a sinus pill and have a home-cooked meal, not more restaurant food.
Awaiting me was a rejection notice for “Garibaldi in Exile” from The New Yorker. Tacked on to the usual form was a handwritten sentence: “This is too similar in style to Barthelme for our comfort.” I don’t know quite how to take that; I suppose Baumbach would consider it a compliment.
After a delicious dinner of franks and beans, I returned to the campus. Passing Sugar Bowl, I spotted Alice having coffee inside, so I went in to see her.
She and Andreas got drunk on New Year’s Eve and wound up at her house, where they slept for four hours; Andreas woke up and went home at 11:55 PM.
Alice said Andreas gave her a suggestion in a phone conversation she’d just had with him. It seems that this afternoon Alice met this very nice girl playing paddleball, and Andreas said she should fix her up with me.
The girl’s name is Rachel – well, Josh has a Rachel – and she’s 19 or 20, and goes to school upstate. I told Alice to hint around when she sees her again on Monday, when they made a date to play paddleball again, and see what Rachel says.
In Heffernan’s class, I handed in my paper (done last night in two hours) and received my midterm back. I got an A with the sole comment: “Responses are reasonably differentiated.”
After class, Alice met me again, and I introduced her to Simon and Todd (who, earlier in the day, was still working on his paper for Heffernan), and the four of us went back to Sugar Bowl for a snack.
As luck would have it, this Rachel was there, and Alice signaled me so I understood who it was. Rachel is a very beautiful girl. We all had a great time, Alice being her usual effusive self, sprinkling the conversation with her gems.
I saw Linda there with a good-looking man who was not her husband. But I shouldn’t imagine anything is wrong between Linda and Harvey; the guy was probably just a friend or acquaintance.
After we ate something, Alice and I drove Simon to his shrink. He said he had a lot to talk about tonight: Naomi and New Year’s Eve. And then I dropped Alice off at her house. She’s such a doll. Somehow this evening seems very precious.
Friday, January 3, 1975
11 PM. I’m freshly showered and I just washed and blow-dried my hair. Looking at myself in the mirror without my glasses, for a second, I looked nothing short of beautiful. The fat, pimply kid was gone for an instant, and I was something esthetically pleasing, not just an intellect or a nice guy or a doer.
The thought of getting contact lenses crossed my mind, and if my facial hair would grow faster, I’d like to try a beard. I don’t know; I’ve always been a narcissist, but in the past couple of years I haven’t thought much about my body. Have I neglected it to concentrate on my mind and my emotions?
There’s just so little time, and one can’t do everything; that’s the only really sad thing in life. But right now, tonight, somehow I almost feel like shouting along with Bellow’s Augie March: “Look at me, going everywhere!”
For a while I was disappointed with the New Yorker rejection – when I sent in “Garibaldi,” I had fantasized a dozen scenarios of instant literary acclaim – but the comparison to Barthelme flattered me, and it has spurred my writing once again.
I was pleased with my A on Heffernan’s midterm: when she called my name, she looked to see what my mark was, and she nodded approvingly; I feel that, from my comments in class, she thinks I’m an astute literary critic.
And I have to admit that Alice’s idea (or rather Andreas’ – how nice to him to be thinking of my welfare) of fixing me up with this girl Rachel has given me new optimism about seeing a woman again.
While I’m sure Alice’s good-natured scheme won’t amount to anything, it’s just the fact that it could make me feel good that gives me hope. It’s the possibility of serendipity, like getting my job with the Voice.
I’m enjoying work even though I’m walking all over the place in cold, damp weather. I don’t really feel that I’m doing work as I make my way around Manhattan for four hours.
It’s funny: I thought all the other messengers had been there for ages, yet today I learned that Amanda’s been there only four weeks and Dayna for six. Ronald gave us our checks this morning, such pitiable sums that both Amanda and Dayna said they didn’t know how long they’d stay on the job.
They must have a high turnover, for even in a depression – we might as well get used to the term – $2-an-hour jobs aren’t exactly attracting hordes of the unemployed.
But today was fun: I went with Amanda to cash our checks at the bank and then we walked to the subway at Union Square. Bobby was still out sick, so I had the West Side above 45th Street again. I went to ad agencies and stores all over the place, taking buses and subways and walking a great deal (my feet are a disaster area).
But I have so much time to myself, and I look at the city, learn about places I’d never noticed, window-shop, etc. Today I even had time for an elegant leisurely lunch at the Graduate Center Dining Commons, reading the Post while watching the snow fall on the roofs of the buildings below.
While walking around Manhattan, I’ve been planning stories, and just observing people on the subways: a boisterous group of black teenagers in a heated debate on the respective virtues of Brooklyn and Queens; some choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus; a class of Puerto Rican schoolchildren on a class trip who got so excited when the train went over the bridge.
I got back to the office at 3:45 PM, handed Ron my pickups, and was home an hour later.
Oh yes, there’s one other thing I’m happy about. Last night, against my better judgment, I called Ronna. I figured I was in such a good mood it would offset any upset I’d feel afterward; Ronna herself might call on a day when I was feeling low and that might prove a disaster.
Well, last night everything went splendidly. I suppose it was because we stuck to “intellectual” subjects: Yeats and Dwight Macdonald and Impressionism and just literary flights of fantasy.
We’re both pleased, I think, that we’re still good mind-mates, if not soul-mates; there’s no one else I’d rather have a good conversation or long discussion with. We talked about our jobs, and oddly enough, we have the publishing business as something in common now, something we never shared before.
Ronna and I ended up talking until midnight and I don’t think either of us minded losing a little sleep.
Monday, January 6, 1975
An extraordinary thing happened on the subway today. I changed trains at 72nd Street to get on the local and noticed a boy staring at me intently.
He was about 18 or 19, with very long straight blond hair (almost like Avis’s Helmut) and wearing a flannel shirt, patched denim jeans and Keds sneakers. Since he was carrying a knapsack of books, I figured he was probably going up to Columbia.
He kept staring, and I looked at him, then looked away, then met his eyes again, and I smiled shyly. I had to get off at the very next stop, 79th Street, and as I did, I looked back and he was smiling at me and had raised his finger – his left index finger – in recognition.
It suddenly struck me that I was being flirted with, and the thought made my whole day. For it seems so long since someone’s found me sexually attractive, and those people all knew me already.
But this boy didn’t know if I was intelligent or kind or witty or gentle; he was responding to me physically, and it was nice. I need someone to love me, but more so, I need someone to love.
I don’t care that much about receiving love, but I don’t know what I’d do without having an outlet for the excess love I have to give. I say “I love you” aloud at night in bed, and it’s just going into the air, there’s no recipient.
I’ve spoken to Ronna on the phone, but she hasn’t been the one to call me since December 18 (but who’s counting?) and I will not humiliate myself by initiating things all the time.
Alice never called tonight, so the thing with that girl did not work out; knowing Alice, she’d rather not talk to me than to take the chance of hurting my feelings by saying Rachel didn’t want to meet me.
Tonight, when I went to Brooklyn College to pick up the schedule of classes – I register for the spring term on Wednesday – I saw Stefanie in James Hall. She called me into a room where she was editing a final project for her Film Editing class.
I was so hungry for company, I overstayed my welcome: the film was due tomorrow and I was interfering with her work. It wasn’t exactly a rejection, but I wanted to ask Stefanie how she’s been doing and tell her about me and drive her home to Rockaway and whatever. But her mind was on her film.
Driving home by myself, I realized I was making the same mistake with Stefanie that I made with Stacy after my breakup with Shelli: I was pressing too hard, assuming in my mind a closer relationship than we actually had. I was forgetting myself, that it takes time and work to achieve closeness.
So here I am, alone. Yet in a way I’m grateful that I was spared making any overt moves toward anyone today. I’m frightened to death because I haven’t done that sort of thing in two years – and even then, I never really learned the trick of it.
That’s why a part of me can envy really tight relationships like Cousin Scott and his girlfriend even as I know I’d probably find that kind of relationship to be stifling. I did enjoy yesterday in Cedarhurst, catching up on family gossip on both sides.
I think I’ll give Cousin Robin a call and find out how things are going. She’s interested in writing, and Aunt Sydelle said that Drew is quite ill (Sydelle didn’t appear distressed – quite the opposite), so I should contact Robin.
I learned that my step-cousin Bonnie goes to BC and lives with her boyfriend’s family while her twin Alice lives in Florida with her aunt. Monty is now selling hardware, but business is lousy, as it is for most people now. Merryl and her husband have a garden apartment in Oceanside and she still finds time to train horses.
I even heard about Aunt Arlyne’s sister, who has her hands full with her special ed second graders in Trenton; one kid tries to hang himself in class every day. I didn’t think Donna would stick it out this long after I spoke to her on the phone after her first day last September.
Somehow an extended family is comforting in these paranoiac, schizoid times.
Today I worked from 10 AM to 4 PM. Both Bobby and Paul were out sick today, so I ran myself ragged doing the whole West Side. It was really hectic although I did have a pleasant lunch at the Blue Jay Restaurant on 59th Street and Ninth Avenue.
In the office I learned they’re missing a big check, for about $10,000, that I was supposed to have picked up at the nightclub Reno Sweeney’s on Friday. I feel awful about it, but there’s one woman in the department, Sharon, who’s really obnoxious and who tries to make me feel like a lackey.
I don’t intend to quit my job at the Voice, but I’m now looking around for something better. Ronald treats me well and is very nice, though; today I learned that he’s heavily into Buddhism. He’s got a sign by his desk that says Shakubuku Means Happiness.
Thursday, January 9, 1975
The TV soap opera Love of Life – one of my favorites – used to begin each show by stating the program’s theme after announcing the title: “Vanessa Dale’s Search for Human Dignity.”
Dignity: it’s a word that’s been on my mind all day.
I don’t know if it’s possible to live in this place and time and preserve one’s dignity. No one seems to have the remotest conception of dignity anymore – if they ever did.
On the subways, people are treated like cattle (I was among those herded from one malfunctioning train to another by the transit cops) and so they behave like cattle.
I delivered a heavy array of packages all over the West Side of Manhattan today, yet everywhere I went, I was treated as a $2-an-hour messenger, and hence lower than human.
I find it infuriating that the corporate world – and I’ve just begun to see anything of it – is so dehumanizing. Behind all the nice graphics and plush Danish modern furniture and pristine glass doors is some infernal, eternal machine. As Jerry once quaintly put it, they’re “clogs [sic] on the assembly line.”
Today is one of my disgusted-with-humanity days although I still regard some individuals with some respect.
Take Richard Hauer Costa, the editor of Quartet: he said he couldn’t squeeze my story into his next issue, but he sent me a lovely handwritten note saying that “its elimination was not caused by lack of excellence but by lack of space.”
And he signed himself, “Regretfully.” I think I’m going to write him a thank-you note; such graciousness almost eases the disappointment I feel.
And there are other good people around. Yesterday was boring at the Voice because it was the day the paper came out and there were no deliveries or pickups; instead we had to stay in the office and do tear sheets and other paperwork.
But it was good to talk with the other messengers, Amanda, Dayna and Paul. Paul is an actor-type who lives with his lover on Staten Island. He told marvelous stories, especially one about his work on the Gay Switchboard, a kind of hotline, the other night.
One guy called, very distraught, saying he was going to kill himself by jumping off the Morton Street pier. But after a few minutes he was asking Paul what he looked like. That’s the human spirit for you.
Dayna’s a very natural person (she eats only vegetables and her legs are hairier than mine), a refugee from Boston who’s trying to be an artist.
And Amanda’s a kind of wanderer in flannel shirt and sneakers; she’s heading out to Boulder soon (and, curiously, she does remind me of Avis’s friend Beverly, who moved there).
I met Gary’s mother on 14th Street today; she was surprised to see me, but I couldn’t talk, as I was in a rush to get to the office. The other evening I spoke with Gary, and he sounded very low. He’s on intersession now and he dreads the thought of going back for another semester at Columbia.
For Gary, the school has meant “one and a half years of conflict,” trying to fight the system there. He didn’t bother to find out last term’s grades and he can’t bring himself to finish a paper (guess who can sympathize with that over his masters’ thesis at Richmond).
He’s doing well academically, but Gary is another victim of the impersonal, cruel mentality that seems to pervade everything these days. Gary confessed that he doesn’t even want to call his friend Larry, a fellow student, only because Larry reminds him of Columbia. That’s another very human trait.
Last night I registered at BC, in the new buildings, and it was relatively swift and painless. I had to take the Fiction Workshop 2 and the Fiction Tutorial 2, of course, and for a third course I picked the sole class given by the Comp Lit department: Shorter Forms of 20th Century Prose Fiction.
The whole thing was done by computer, and it was so antiseptic that I almost miss the sweaty card-pulling hysteria of Roosevelt gym.
Elihu called last night. He registers at the Grad Center tomorrow. Before the term begins, he’s planning a weeklong visit to Madison to see the people from there who visited Leon over the holidays. Although Elihu and Leon are very close again, Elihu said he doesn’t want to be known to these Madison people as “Leon’s friend.”
And Elihu didn’t seem too thrilled that Allan was returning on Sunday from spending the holidays with his parents in Tampa.
Friday, January 10, 1975
7 PM. I feel beautiful tonight, and I seem to see beauty where there was none before. As our friend Mrs. Ehrlich would say, it’s mostly a matter of interpretation.
For today I seemingly came across dozens of people who appear to be living integrated lives and preserving their dignity. And I feel I can make myself into one of those people, too.
Saul once sent Shelli a note – this is going back four years – that said, “Be gentle with yourself.” I’ve been gentle with myself today, caring and concerned.
Yesterday I visited the dermatologist, who gave me Tetracycline pills, a cream and injection for my skin, and I hope it will shape up soon.
Odd how Mrs. Ehrlich still affects my life: at the doctor’s, I announced myself as “Mr. Grayson,” feeling entitled to use that title if I had to call the doctor by his title and last name. I also asserted myself, checking on exactly what medications he was giving me.
Tonight, after work, I stopped off for a hairstyling at Telepathy. Joe is more than an excellent hair stylist; he’s my friend. I can talk to him as I can talk to few other people: he’s older than me, but not that much, and he understands what’s going on in my life.
I confided in Joe about Ronna. She called last evening and we both decided that it would be best if we were not to see each other tonight. I explained to her that I still have too much psychic energy focused on her, and I’m not yet emotionally ready to be just her friend.
I reminded Ronna of her birthday meeting with Ivan in 1972, and that was several months after their breakup, and he had a girlfriend, but they still ended up making out and regretting it.
When I’ve recovered from the hurt, I told Ronna, we can see each other again, and we ended up chatting breezily and gaily, as we did last Thursday. At the end of our conversation, I said, “Take care of yourself, Caplan.”
“You too, Grayson,” she said as we hung up.
Then Gary phoned to say he’d received his formal notification of candidacy to the Ph.D., with Beveridge agreeing to be his advisor. He took the news with a grain of irony; Gary has learned – the hard way – a lot more than sociology at Columbia.
Work today seemed like a grand adventure, a kind of rousing picaresque novel. In some ways this job as a messenger is very good for me. I feel I’m where the action is: riding the subways, walking the streets (and believe me, that exercise is exhausting but somehow very exhilarating). And when I come home from six hours of work feeling energized, you know something’s got to be right.
Amanda is gone, and unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye before she left for Boulder. Dayna was out today, so this morning it was just Paul and me. After cashing my check (a truly sweet experience), I went up to the East Side today, making deliveries.
And I met some lovely people on my travels. On the 34th Street bus, I sat with an interracial couple, a black woman and a white guy (about my age, with fuzzy blond hair) who held a tiny black baby. They seemed so loving and “together” that I really felt good just watching them.
After picking up some things in the UN area, I took the Second Avenue bus downtown to the East Village and had a pleasant conversation with this girl who was visiting New York with her school glee club. I just started by asking her if her Earth shoes were comfortable and we began talking with ease.
I wasn’t attracted to her sexually, but still I felt so good afterwards. It’s like with that boy on the IRT Monday: any kind of positive human contact is beautiful these days.
On Broadway I ran into John Ashbery, and we stopped to talk for a few minutes. He was loaded down with books from the Strand Book Store, including a huge dictionary.
“Take care,” I told him as he went off on his way; I like the idea of a poet walking the streets of Manhattan, lugging along a dictionary.
There are ugly and sad things too: at Grand Central Station, a Puerto Rican woman put this girl and the girl’s little daughter on the subway. The girl was totally wasted and was nodding off, and her daughter’s wails of “Mommy, stay awake!” were so desperate and heart-breakingly awful.
Alice sent over a copy of the new issue of Henrietta today. On page 4, it says “Intelligent, witty 23-year-old seeks bright, nice-looking girl. Write Richard c/o Henrietta.”