A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, January 11, 1975
4 PM. Whatever is the opposite of depression: that’s what I seem to have. Last night at Capulet’s, Simon made fun of what he considers my Pollyanna attitudes. With sarcastic mockery in his tone, he repeated something I’ve said often: “I never have time to do all the things I want to do.”
But I took that at the utmost compliment. We were in the bar on Montague Street – me, Simon, Josh and Andy – and despite the fact that I only drink ginger ale, I think I was the most joyful one there.
I was laughing at little things, giggling my gigantic giggles as I always do when I get silly. I believe I embarrassed Simon slightly, but the others seemed to get off on my laughing. Maybe, as Simon said, I’m really crying on the inside, but for whatever reason, it felt good to let myself go and roar with laughter.
Last night I felt the same way I did after Elihu and I went to that dreary Bisexual Liberation party, that I possess a sort of magic secret that no one else does.
Simon had called me at 7:30 PM last night and said he wanted to do something, and so I called Josh who said that he and Andy were “planning to spend the evening sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Actually, I had been looking forward to spending a quiet evening at home, but once the opportunity had come up, I decided to take advantage of it.
Simon is a wonderful person, but he worries so much about whether he should call Naomi or not, how doing this or that would make him look. He’s been joining yoga classes and hiking groups, and it all seems so desperate.
Not that Simon wasn’t fun to be with at times last evening, but I see I want to be with people who are less frightened of life. I find that at age 23, I’ve become – in some ways, at least – the type of person that I’ve always admired: a feeling, spontaneous human being.
I still have some way to go, but just that I’ve gotten this far is near to a miracle. I can thank therapy and especially Mrs. Ehrlich for showing me what life can be like.
Yesterday on the subway I was reading an article in the that said one can “have” a depression without “being” depressed. There are often these substitute symptoms, the most common being anhedonia, the absence of pleasure.
I still get depressed, and at times very depressed, but most of the time I’m feeling what’s going on inside of me. Some situations appropriately call for people to experience depression, but psychic numbness is just plain deadly.
I’ve been thinking of writing a story called “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” after Freud’s book. Stories are coming to me fast and furious these days – ideas for stories, anyway.
Just this week, there were half a dozen scenes and episodes of urban life that seem like they could make for good fiction:
Paul’s experience with the suicidal guy on the Gay Switchboard; that doped-up Puerto Rican post-teenybopper and her daughter’s frantic squealing attempts to keep her awake; the blond kid on the IRT who flirted with me; Amanda heading for Boulder; Andy saying he dreads sleep because he dreams of old girlfriends saying they still love him; Ronna and I trying to sort out our feelings about each other for ourselves.
So much of life can be exploited like that. If I don’t get bored as easily as Simon or Josh, maybe it’s because I perceive things more intently than they do. There are so many new experiences: just yesterday I found this place, Amster Yard, a lovely medieval courtyard hidden in midtown Manhattan.
There are hundreds of little discoveries to be made, if only we can see them.
Today I drove out to Rockaway and I noticed a car in Vicky’s driveway had its headlights on. I drove around the block again, and then I went to a phone booth and called their house, speaking to Vicky’s mother, who said her husband was leaving the motor running because the car hadn’t been working.
I felt foolish, but I decided not to worry about what people think of anymore. It’s a hard thing to do, however; I have to admit I still feel funny about it.
Then I went to Mikey’s house, but his mother said that he’d gone to Philadelphia for the day.
Wednesday, January 15, 1975
Last evening I picked up Josh, and when we arrived at Baumbach’s Park Slope brownstone for the fiction MFA end-of-term party, Todd, Simon and Denis were already there, sitting with Baumbach in the den, which was probably once a first-floor apartment.
Soon after we arrived, the others came: Barbara and Anna with Joey Strassman of Baumbach’s undergrad fiction writing class, and also Stan Rabinowitz from that class.
Baumbach was very stiff, and for a while everyone was fairly uncomfortable; he kept offering us drinks in a manner which was somehow too insistent, too hearty. His five-year-old son Noah came downstairs shyly and I went over and talked with him; he’s a cute little kid and he looked adorable in a Mickey Mouse shirt.
Anna had a problem about registering for her first term as an MFA student, and Baumbach and I tried to straighten it out. I chatted with Joey, who just graduated; he lives in Mill Basin and is trying to get into law school.
Baumbach read a new story of Todd’s and the beginnings of my rewrite of “Jordan Brandeis’ Shrink Is Missing.” Josh was bored, but most people did enjoy it and Baumbach especially felt that the disappearance of one’s shrink was a good idea for a novel.
We chatted about literature and school for a while, and when it became clear that the “party” was ending, I made my way to the bathroom. When I returned, there was an almost tangible tension in the air.
Josh and Baumbach were the center of attention. Evidently Baumbach had been discussing grades, and Josh wanted to know how he could grade us. “What are you teaching us that will make us better writers?” Josh was asking.
“What am I teaching you?” Baumbach repeated tensely. Then he said something about grading on the amount of material submitted, that twenty pages or so a term was adequate.
Josh replied that everyone had submitted that much, and Baumbach looked skeptical, so Josh asked, “Who hasn’t?” Barbara, behind Baumbach’s back, pointed to herself.
Denis, whose razzing of Baumbach is limited to calling him “Chief” and “Cowboy,” said, “Oh boy!” jauntily, and Josh turned and told Denis to shut up.
Baumbach pulled himself together and said, “I’ll discuss this privately with you on Thursday, Josh.”
I stepped in and asked about the job situation in colleges, which Baumbach said was very bleak (nothing I didn’t know, but I felt I had to lessen the tension, if only for my own sake) and then Joey asked Baumbach to autograph his copy of Reruns.
We all left, and outside on the stoop, Simon, Todd and Denis decided to get some Irish coffee. Joey said he had to get home to watch Marcus Welby and that he would drive Barbara home but that he couldn’t take Anna to Manhattan. I said Josh and I would drive her up to Stuyvesant Town.
I was hoping Anna might be salvageable as girlfriend material, but after a twenty-minute car ride, I realized it was a hopeless cause. She objected to the part of my story where Jordan takes a girl to a Planned Parenthood lecture on IUDs. Why? “Because it’s not nice.”
Anna goes to church every Sunday (the same church as her neighbor, Prof. Heffernan) and seems very dull-witted: I would be totally embarrassed to be seen with her. She compared the party to “beatniks going to Greenwich Village to read poetry.”
(Where do all these idiots come from, claiming to be writers? Today in the library, I met Donny Rachelson from the poetry program, supposedly my co-editor on the literary magazine. He asked me if I had ever read Henry James’ s “The Waste Land,” saying that from what he’d heard, it was a pretty good poem, and important, too. And he considers himself a poet!)
Anyway, after Anna scurried off to avoid being raped on the streets of Stuyvesant Town, Josh exploded. He was boiling with anger at Baumbach. (As we were driving to Manhattan, after Anna said to Josh, “You’re so hyper,” he stopped talking to her.)
The two of us went to Picadeli on Montague Street and then back to Josh’s apartment, and all the time Josh was venting months of hostility toward Baumbach.
There was always a subtle tension between them, but Josh has felt all along that Baumbach (and Spielberg) disliked him and had no sympathy for his writings. He likes Prof. Goodman, his undergrad playwriting teacher, who gives him advice and criticism.
I agree with much of Josh’s criticism: Baumbach is a cold person who thinks his way is always the right way. But Josh does have a big chip on his shoulder. Anyway, he finally talked out all his anger and we listened to jazz and talked.
Josh’s last girlfriend, he said, made him so crazy that he thought of seeing a shrink. He called up Julia, whom he says he never should have broken up with. Josh told me that Andy got a call from Elspeth this evening and got suckered into doing some favor for her.
I left Josh’s at 1 AM.
Friday, January 17, 1975
Coming home from Manhattan this evening, I noticed the sun just over the arc of the distant Bayonne Bridge. I looked up from my book as the D train made its way toward Brooklyn, and I felt a perceptible twinge of hope.
Quickly I realized what it was: it gets dark just a bit later now, and there is the promise of spring ahead, even on the coldest day of the winter so far. No wonder why the ancients all celebrated the winter solstice: it finally turns around the increasing night and gives hope that spring will indeed recur.
I am managing, in my own way, to get through this winter alone, and I have no doubt I will succeed. I felt an anxiety attack coming on during the train ride home, but I fought it off successfully.
It’s been a long time since those days in high school when I would wait for the terrible feelings to occur during Math or Social Studies: the dreaded nausea, the dizziness, the feeling I was coming out of my body.
I used to scrawl prayers in my looseleaf. “NNN” was one; it meant No Nausea Now. Another favorite was “DGPNT”: Dear God Please Not Today. I would resort to my superstitions: chanting the Sh’ma Yisroel (after so many years I still remember it by heart, the only Hebrew I know) or drinking from the same water fountain at exactly the same time each day.
Still the anxiety would come and I would have my Pepto-Bismol tablets and my Rolaids ready, along with a prepared pass to the Emergency Room. (I find that much of my post-high school life has been like that, too: always I have prepared a pass to whatever Emergency Room was available at the time.)
No wonder I weighed 110 pounds upon graduation from Midwood. The lessening of anxiety after high school has made me fat and lazy (a condition I am always trying to remedy, currently with my Royal Canadian Air Force exercises).
Still, I think I’ve always been running away from the unpleasant, severing connections (high school, Richmond College, Shelli, Alexander’s) and making my life seem unruly and compartmentalized. Once therapy helped me integrate things. All I have left now is whatever I’ve gained from therapy, and of course, my writing.
Work was pleasant today. For one thing, I got paid: it’s good to see the teller place $45 in my hands and to know that the money is my own.
On the train this morning, I met Frank, Vito’s friend, who reported that Vito is fine although he got closed out of all but three credits at the start of his grad program in audiology this term. I wish Vito would call me, but evidently he doesn’t want to. I’m hurt, but I accept it.
One thing from my job: I’m learning an awful lot about the west side of midtown Manhattan. Every day I walk the streets in my snorkel jacket and red sneakers, carrying manila envelopes from ad agencies and stores.
I find it a challenge to figure out the route that will get me to my various destinations in the shortest possible time. The 75¢ Shoppers Special bus ticket is a godsend: I buy one and I can ride any bus from Eighth Avenue to Third, from 34th Street to 59th Street, for free.
Today was fairly slow. I kept stopping at phone booths to call Ron back for more pickups, but I had done everything in my area by 1:45 PM.
My last stop of the day was this beautiful store, New Couture, which has imported French clothing at outrageous prices. I would love to have one of their shirts, but the cheapest ones start at $20.
So I walked along the block, which was the block Scott lived on (and where Sheila still lives) and had lunch at the Bun ‘n’ Burger in the MGM Building.
Then I strolled over to the Museum of Modern Art. A teacher from a New Jersey community college was conducting a field trip and I followed the class and listened to what he said. While I didn’t learn much that was new to me, it was a pleasant refresher course in miniature.
I sat in Monet’s “Water Lilies” room, which is so peaceful. Ronna always assumed I resented staying there with her, but I never minded one bit. All in all, I spent an hour in MOMA.
I picked up one last last-minute package in the West Village, returned to the Voice office to give them my pickups, stopped at the Eighth Street Bookshop to get something – Laurie gave me a friendly hello – and came home to Brooklyn.
Sunday, January 19, 1975
6 PM. I hope it snows tonight; I’d love to awaken to a completely white world. I’m tired and must get to bed early, as I got very little sleep last night. It was a dreary evening: I went over to Josh’s for a bit.
The apartment was empty except for the two of us. Paul has moved back with his moronic wife, and Robbie and his girlfriend were attending a Philharmonic concert at Lincoln Center. I had hibiscus tea while Josh made himself dinner, some very unappetizing-looking spaghetti.
Josh told me about his encounter with Baumbach on Thursday, when he told Baumbach that he was very disappointed in the MFA program and how he felt that Baumbach couldn’t give a shit about the students.
Josh told Baumbach that every time he handed in something, he felt like he was committing a crime and that he was sure that other students have felt the same way in Baumbach’s classes over the years, but that Baumbach probably had noticed that.
Baumbach said no, he hadn’t, but that he did sense Josh’s hostility from the start and wished Josh had come in earlier to talk with him. He told Josh that he was giving him an A and said that just because he, Baumbach, didn’t express his feelings, that didn’t mean he didn’t care.
At that point Josh regretted going into the office. He could see from the look in Baumbach’s eyes that he felt wounded.
“I felt like a fucking ogre,” Josh told me.
The other night Ronna mentioned that she felt that Baumbach resembled Aldous Huxley and Huxley’s character Quarles: an entirely cerebral novelist. Lawrence described the emotion in Point Counter Point as “nothing more than an attempt at intellectual sympathy.” That’s kind of Baumbach’s thing: there’s no emotion in his fiction.
Curiously, I found myself feeling terribly sorry for Baumbach. In a way, he reminds me of Dad, who often appears cold, but really it’s just hard for him to express his emotions.
Last night Josh and I fucked around, mostly discussing how much we needed women. Josh is getting this terrible attitude about females, namely that “they’ll only end up busting your balls.”
He keeps bringing up Allan’s “asexuality or homosexuality or whatever it is,” and Josh got me to admit – to myself as well as to him – that I find the gay bar/dancing/glitter scene of Leon and Shelli and Jerry as repulsive as Josh does.
Josh says that since his breakup, he just wants to sleep, so we called it a night pretty early – I’m sorry I never did get to find out exactly what was going on between Elspeth and Andy – and I came home to bed.
But I was unable to get to sleep until 5 AM; my mind kept racing ahead and I couldn’t stop it. Sometimes at that hour one can have the most intense revelations.
I was thinking of Ronna, of course, and I began to wonder if the person I haven’t been most in love with is Ivan. After all, the three women I’ve been involved with sexually – Shelli, Stacy and Ronna – have all also been connected with Ivan.
At Sindy and Kieran’s engagement party four years ago, I was Shelli’s date, I was sitting next to Ronna, but I remember being attracted to Ivan. At one point, Shelli was joking, and she said if I mentioned Carole’s name one more time, she’d “rape” Ivan.
I did, and Shelli began opening Ivan’s shirt, revealing a nice, hairy chest (and he was only sixteen at the time). At the end of the evening, Ivan kissed Shelli good night and so I wanted to kiss her even better. Later I saw Ivan and Ronna walking down Ralph Avenue heading toward her house; they were holding hands and I envied them.
I can still see Ivan and Ronna on the sand at Gary’s beach party; I told them about Vonnegut’s boko-maru from Cat’s Cradle and they put the soles of their feet together. And I remember Ivan’s head in Stacy’s lap at Scott’s séance.
Was that why I was interested in knowing Vicky, fascinated by Ivan’s sister and her husband, and interested in his whole family? Was I jealous of Ivan’s attention to Ronna rather than vice versa?
There’s a lot of weird feelings around, but they’re out in the open. No wonder why my heart pounds when I see Ivan; I guess I’ve had a crush on him for years.
I think it all has something to do with Ivan’s similarity to Dad: they’re both dark and handsome, charming and poised, and in the clothing business. Am I still trying to get the father’s love I felt I never had as a child?
Yet, beyond that, I did love Ronna, and it wasn’t just because of Ivan. And I still love her in some many ways although I’m sure she has a boyfriend by now.
Monday, January 20, 1975
I felt so depressed coming home from work today, I started crying on the D train. I had run around Manhattan in the snow all day and I felt tired and discouraged and distraught.
My life isn’t making any sense, I thought, and I’ll never be a writer and I’ll never get anywhere and I’m alone and scared and lonely. I trudged to the door, about to run up to my bed and sob when Mom came down the steps and said, “Congratulations.”
She handed me an envelope from Literary Workshop Publications; it said “Open Immediately – Contract Enclosed.” They bought “Rampant Burping” for $25 for New Writers.
I could hardly believe it. I kept rereading the letter from Constance Glickman, the publisher; she said although the story was “artsy-craftsy,” I handled it well and that she was sure her readers would find it an interesting experience.
Even now, two hours later, I have trouble conceiving that it’s actually going to be published. I reread the contract several times and signed it. To a non-legal mind, I guess it’s pretty vague, but it seems to be standard: they get all rights to the story (I’m “hereinafter referred to as ‘the author’” and “Rampant Burping” is “hereinafter referred to as ‘the work’”).
I have to write a one- or two-paragraph biographical sketch, but my brain won’t think right now: it all has to sink in. Mom and Dad were thrilled, of course, and Mom tried to contact me all day, knowing it would make me feel better as I ran around collecting ads all over the West Side.
I called up Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel first to tell them the news; I had been over at their hours yesterday. Grandpa Herb is better. On Saturday Grandpa Nat took him to the eye doctor, who removed the eyepatch. (I tried to find Grandpa Nat yesterday, but he wasn’t home in Rockaway or in Cedarhurst.)
Next I called up Prof. Baumbach. After all, if it not for him, I wouldn’t have written the story. He said the piece “should improve the quality of their magazine” and would be good publicity for the Brooklyn College MFA program.
The next person I called, of course, was Ronna. She had just arrived home from work at ARCO but she was so happy for me. I had spoken to her last evening, but I knew she’d want to hear my good news: we can still share things together because we are friends.
We had a delightful conversation last night. Not a harsh word was exchanged, nor was there a harsh thought on my part or, I believe, on hers. I realized how much of my love for Ronna is just based on her being Ronna and that it has nothing to do with Ivan or Shelli or anybody else.
Speaking of those two worthies, both had called Ronna in the past week. Ronna was glad that she could speak to me with ease, for that wasn’t the case with Ivan, who said something that upset her but she ”couldn’t tell him to fuck off.” (Ronna said she could easily say something like that to me: how wonderful!)
I wonder if what Ivan said was a comment about me, something about my calling Vicky’s family about the running car in their driveway; that wouldn’t surprise me.
Earlier in the conversation, Ronna and I were talking about the sad state of the job market, and I said, “Guess who got fired.”
And she said, “Mark Savage.”
“Who told you?” I asked, and she replied that Shelli had called her out of the blue on Friday, when Ronna just happened to be home sick with a virus. Shelli, it seems, had run into Phyllis, and that reminded her of Ronna.
Shelli and Jerry are more or less living in Brooklyn with her parents now. Shelli dropped out of Emerson and is looking for work. She hopes to return to Brooklyn College in the fall and commented that I’m probably the only person she knows who goes to BC!
Our very modern soap opera is taking some unusual turns; I wonder what new plot complications will arise. But I was speaking to Ronna as a friend: she told me of Susan’s visit and her own new room (formerly Billy’s) and how her sister and Hank are staying at the Nevele Hotel for a week as Mr. and Mrs.
I have so many good memories with Ronna, and when I compare our relationship with those around me, I see how healthy it was.
Tuesday, January 21, 1975
The glow from selling a story is beginning to lose its luster, but in a way, I still cannot believe somebody would pay me $25 for a story I completed in half an hour. I feel like I’m pulling a fast one over these people and that the whole thing will remain unreal until I see the story in print and have the $25 check in my hand.
I cannot get over how the good news came just when I needed it. I had been ready to call Mrs. Ehrlich and cry to her, asking if there was any place I could get free therapy.
I still may do that. While I feel a whole lot better now, that I’m on the right track, I am more certain than ever that success does not change one’s emotional state. Whether I sell one story or ten novels, I‘ll still be Richie Grayson and have all the problems which go along with being Richie Grayson.
Another good thing came in the mail today: an A in my lit class from Heffernan. She wrote that my “class comments and A final compensated for a rather weak paper.” So all in all, this has been a wholly successful term: all A’s, a lot of writing (though somehow never enough to satisfy me) and finally, a story published.
And I’m happy with the most recent turn of events in my relationship with Ronna. We’re good friends; no one could deny that if they heard us talking excitedly last night. Although I might like something more, I’ll have to accept that this is the way Ronna wants this, for I prefer “just friendship” to no contact with her at all.
Last evening I speculated on what new complications Shelli’s presence in Brooklyn would bring, and it seems there’s been one already, indirectly, at any rate. I discovered this when I called up Allan to tell him about “Rampant Burping”; he was as excited as if he’d written the story himself.
I asked “What’s doing?” and Allan said, “A whole lot.” Allan said he asked Elihu to leave the apartment by the end of the month.
“When you talk to Elihu,” Allan said, “he’ll say I threw him out.” Little by little, I learned the story, no part of which I had ever expected. (There goes your vaunted sensitivity, Grayson.)
For months now, Elihu, Leon, Jerry and Shelli “have been like one person” and their avoidance of Allan and their hostility toward him kept growing. They would call Elihu only when they knew Allan would be out, and the only time they ever included Allan was when they needed a car.
At first Allan thought he was paranoid about these plots – he asked Evan, who said he couldn’t judge –but Elihu admitted they were true. Leon, Shelli and Jerry (Allan says the latter two “have hit rock bottom in New York”) kept trudging through the apartment and Allan didn’t like them and didn’t wish them to be in his home.
Allan said that telling Elihu to move out was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, but Elihu’s reaction – a tirade, with loud protests that he would not move – only convinced Allan that he was doing the right thing.
I didn’t ask for the full story, and while I’m surprised at Elihu (who’s changed greatly) and less so of Leon (I thought he had changed), I’m confirmed in my judgment that where Jerry and Shelli go, trouble follows. “They’re toxic,” Allan said.
He felt marvelous in Florida if only because he was away from them. (Now that I think about it, Elihu did react stiffly to the mention of Allan’s name when we last spoke). When Allan returned, he knew what he had to do.
I was supportive of Allan while not criticizing Elihu – yet I have no sympathy for that glitter/nightclub kind of gay lifestyle. I don’t want to take sides, yet I cannot help admiring Allan for his stand. (And of course, Allan is also gay.)
Then I called Gary, also, to tell him the news about selling my story; it’s always good to have Gary around to share things with even if he is a little dull at times.
Work ended early at noon today, so I walked over to “the place.” When I saw Grandpa Nat, who was cutting pants on the other side of the factory floor, he shouted, “Mazel tov!” (Yesterday, when Dad told Grandpa Nat about my story, he stopped cutting for a minute, said “Really?” and went back to cutting the goods.)
Dad and I went out for lunch at Brownie’s. At the next table, Helen Gurley Brown, the Cosmopolitan editor, was interviewing Sam Brown, the restaurant’s owner, who is leaving the store to work on a project to see if cancer can be cured by “body detoxification.” It was the most fascinating eavesdropping I ever did in my life.