A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, January 22, 1975
It’s 5 PM and still light out. I do believe I shall survive this winter, but what then? So many things are floating around in my head: fears, fantasies, frustrations.
Yesterday, at lunch, I looked at Dad closely. He doesn’t look well. He’s overworked, over-worried, and there’s that lump on the side of his neck where his glands are. Dad is going to be 50 next year and he doesn’t look like a youngster anymore.
All the while Sam Brown kept telling Helen Gurley Brown about “detoxification” leading to perfect health, I kept thinking that Dad doesn’t take care of himself. If I hadn’t come by, he would have skipped lunch entirely. I wanted to reach out to him, to tell him not to die.
But that’s my problem, my inability to let go. Mrs. Ehrlich knew that as well as she knew her own name: that inability to let go is why I’m unable to complete my thesis at Richmond; that’s why I can’t leave home; that’s why I’ve hardly traveled or tried new experiences.
It’s a wonder that I’ve done anything – yet of course there was a time when I didn’t do anything, that year between high school and when I started Brooklyn College.
I didn’t go into work today. When I awoke (I had a lovely dream about the beach in Rockaway; I wish it were summer already), I couldn’t move. I felt so weak, I didn’t even call in sick. Ron phoned me later and I said I had a virus.
But after a bit, I felt fine and I knew the sick feeling was just because I didn’t want to spend six hours in that stuffy Voice office doing tearsheets.
I did go to the college placement office again and found a $2-an-hour job at the Flatbush branch of the public library. It’s 9-12, mostly lifting and shelving books: that’s what the librarian, Mrs. Higgins, said when I went down for an interview.
She said she had other people to interview, so I may not get the job. Still, going on all these interviews is good experience. If I do take the job at the library, I probably won’t stay on that job very long, either.
It looks as though I’m going to have a succession of odd jobs, all low-paying. But I’m not making it my career; I just need something part-time to give me a few dollars to live on.
I haven’t written a new story in weeks, and I’m getting worried about it: I don’t have anything to hand in for the new term. And I’m anxious about whether Spielberg in the workshop and my tutorial advisor (either Susan Fromberg Schaeffer or Clarence Major) will like my stuff.
The glow from Monday’s “Rampant Burping” sale has worn off completely. I mailed the contracts back today, and the whole thing seems unreal.
I’ve wanted to get in touch with people I haven’t seen lately, so last night I called Mara and this morning I called Vito, and I had long conversations with each.
Mara was making out applications for grad school in TV; her TV show with that Argentine woman went well and will probably be shown on WNYC-TV this spring. She thinks she may be fired from Alexander’s because she’s refusing to come in for inventory on Sunday.
It turns out that Mara was present when Shelli saw Phyllis because Phyllis and Timmy had taken Mara out to Wo Hop for her birthday, and it was there that they saw Shelli at the next table with Jerry, Elihu and Leon.
We gossiped for a while about Phyllis’s sister’s wedding, the sorry state of Kingsman (hardly anyone I know is on the paper now), and general nonsense. I wished Mara luck with grad school; her first choice is Penn State.
Vito sounded pleased to hear from me. He told me that he’s been fine, but now his mother, brother and sister Stella have all been having back trouble. “The Panzerino back,” Vito called it, referring to his mother’s family.
He had a disastrous registration and got into only one course, Instruments in a Speech Laboratory. But he has to go to school, for he’s getting bored: he’s seen every movie in New York and most of the plays.
Vito told me about meeting Eddie on the subway (“He tried to avoid me, but I wouldn’t let him”) and how he, Vito, kept deliberately bringing up Rose’s name to annoy Eddie.
My stories about Shelli and Jerry amused Vito. He thinks they’re “degenerates,” which is pretty funny in a way. “When Shelli starts going to the trucks,” he said, “that’s when I go completely straight.”
This afternoon I treated myself to a double feature: Harold and Maude (the fourth time I saw it and enjoyed it) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: Jewish boy runs toward success.
Friday, January 24, 1975
Today was springlike: I felt very mellow all day. On the train to Manhattan this morning, I was thinking that I’ll be 23 in June. Then I realized that I was already 23 and would be 24 this year.
I cannot comprehend being so old. From my childhood, I remember always believing that at 24, a person was supposed to be a totally mature adult, married and set in a career. And look at me drifting.
But on Wednesday when I went to the movies, the doorman at the College Theater asked me how old I was. At first he didn’t want to let me in because he thought I might be playing hooky from high school!
I was flattered rather than annoyed: the ticket-taker should only know it’s been seven years since I graduated Midwood.
Yesterday I had to deliver an envelope to the Walden School, which is around the corner from Franklin School (they were “progressive” and wore jeans and had long hair while we “traditional” students had to wear blue blazers and ties).
I tried opening the doors of Franklin School on West 89th to see if it looked the same as I remembered it from tenth grade, but the doors were locked; they were on winter recess, I guess.
I’m not sure whether I’m doing the best thing, quitting my messenger job. On a beautiful, slow day like today, I really enjoy the work. After cashing my paycheck, I headed up to West 57th Street to pick up some ads.
The people at the ad agencies – Cindy at H.O. Gerngross, Mrs. Trout at Burstin, the woman at Krone-Olim – now know me by face, if not by name, and are pretty friendly.
And I had so much time to spare today. Armed with my Shoppers Special bus ticket, I headed down Broadway.
Things were so slow that I decided to visit Uncle Marty at 1407; unfortunately, he wasn’t in, but the friendly man at the desk said he’d tell Marty that his nephew dropped by. The office/showroom is certainly lavish, with even a fake fireplace.
I walked through Bryant Park, where several pairs of lovers were kissing on the benches and two office girls were flirting with a shaggy-haired, baby-faced cop.
At the Commons of the Graduate Center, I enjoyed the elegant ambience, eating an expensive salad: my one splurge all week, but I’m entitled. Roger Moorhus, a history professor at Richmond and secretary of its Faculty/Student Assembly, waved to me from a nearby table. I felt good that he recognized me.
I walked around the building for a while, just looking around. From the bulletin boards, I saw that Saul Touster is teaching an interdisciplinary seminar on Women and the Law; Pat Cullen has an English course at the Grad Center this term, too.
I feel so comfortable in the womb of the City University, with familiar names and faces all around me, all people interested in learning.
After I went up Sixth Avenue to pick up a package, I walked over to Rockefeller Center to watch the ice skaters. A lot of people were out and most seemed like they were enjoying the gorgeous weather.
A lazy feeling of serenity swept over me as I walked around. I picked up a check at a 34th-floor penthouse, opulently decorated, and while waiting for the elevator down, I looked out the window. New York was before me, all tall buildings in the haze of a cloudless sky.
I felt wonderful. There was a girl standing next to me, also looking out the window. She was funny-looking, but I wanted to make love to her, just because she was a woman with whom I was sharing something, that amazing view.
Below us, a bus turned onto Fifth Avenue, and for an instant I turned to a little girl who had rushed over to the window: she looked the way Ronna must have looked as an eight-year-old.
I went into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and bought a card for ten cents at their gift shop. The card had a photo of Pope Paul on it and the inscription “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you! (1 Cor. 16.23) – Paulus P.P. VI.” I sat down at a rear pew and wrote on the back of the card; I was feeling so happy I just had to write down and record what I felt.
The organ was playing, and I sat in the back of that magnificent cathedral, feeling very much at peace. I don’t believe in God, but I guess I was giving thanks to someone for the beauty of life. Maybe God is just another name for the something behind the flow, the rhythms I was feeling.
Even the subway couldn’t dampen my spirits this afternoon.
Tuesday, January 28, 1975
7 PM. At the moment I’m annoyed with myself for allowing myself to be talked into doing something with Josh and Simon tonight. I realize that I can’t really say I was talked into it. I am a human being with options, and I chose to say yes to them – but in retrospect I think I made the wrong decision.
It’s no big thing, just a few hours of my time. But I don’t like this idea of becoming so close with the other people in the MFA program. Already, gossip and hostilities have developed, and I’m sure that’s the result of people being around each other too much and getting on one another’s nerves.
Josh even asked me to call Simon although he claims he can’t stand him, and stupid me, I didn’t even bother to question Josh about it. Todd was at Simon’s house and was going to drive him to his shrink.
I made up to meet Simon at the Whitman Institute in an hour. I like Josh and Simon both, and Denis and Todd, too, although less so. But being with them is such a downer for me. Simon calls me to “try to coax [me] out of my room” and Josh keeps calling to make sure I “don’t sit home and feel sorry for [myself].”
What they don’t understand is that aimless going from here to there is not really movement. I enjoy my moments alone; I would have been content to stay home tonight with my Borges book and my RCAF exercises and my newspaper and telephone and TV and typewriter.
It’s just what Rachel was saying in her letter about nobody at college having any sense of purpose. This going-out-for-going-out’s-sake disturbs me because it is aimless and eventually self-defeating. (If only Rachel weren’t 500 miles away in Fredonia. . .)
Even in the city, there are so many other people besides those from the MFA program that I’d like to spend time with: Teresa, Mark and Consuelo, Alice, Mason, Gary, Mikey and Mike, Libby, Melvin, and of course also Ronna if I felt I was ready to see her.
But I keep seeing Simon and Josh because it’s easy: I don’t have to make an effort; they call me. However, I wonder if they call me just because I have a car, the way Leon and Elihu used to call Allan for the same reason.
I really don’t want to let Simon and Josh into my personal life to this great an extent. But anyway, I’ve learned something this evening, and now that I’m aware of what’s going on, I can deal with it more satisfactorily in the future.
And even Doris Cohen, of all people, said today: “You learn from every experience, even ‘bad’ ones or destructive ones.” This was while she was driving Irv and me to the station. I guess there is more wisdom in us, even in the most unlikely of us, than we know.
Speaking of wisdom: Last night I dreamed I got a letter from Jerry, and it really hit home, both in the dream and in reality afterwards. He wrote an appeal to my conscience, wondering where I got the power to judge him.
And of course the dream-Jerry was right. Who am I to say that what his life is all about is somehow inferior to mine? He has the courage, at least, to practice what he preaches, namely bisexuality and open marriage.
Am I not less of a man for judging him and Shelli, for being disdainful of them, for gossiping, for ridiculing? Probably I still will never come to the conclusion that Jerry is an admirable person, but does my calling him a monster or a clown say anything good about me?
No, I’m just doing what Jerry used to do in the old LaGuardia days: put people down, and thereby push myself up one notch without doing anything constructive and positive.
I can’t fall into Allan’s head and hate Elihu, Leon, Shelli and Jerry – for none of them has done anything bad to me, at least not in the past two years (which is long enough to go back).
I take the dream as a warning to set my own house in order before judging others too harshly. It’s really wonderful to have a kind of internal early-warning system. It was always in me, but thanks to therapy and especially to Mrs. Ehrlich, I can now recognize when it’s telling me something.
I worked as a messenger for only three hours today.
Wednesday, January 29, 1975
Last evening turned out to be worse than I could have imagined. I was so upset by the night’s events that I called in sick and didn’t go to work.
Instead, I drove out in the morning rain to Long Island and almost by chance came upon the Nassau County Museum at Garvies Point. (I was looking for Ransom Beach but could not find it.)
I felt relaxed and free driving alone the countrified roads of the North Shore – past The Place, the first Indian settlement on the island, and huge estates with names like Wishing Well Farm.
At the museum, I was the sole visitor, and I looked at the exhibits with great interest. The museum is located on a vast preserve, and archeologists have been excavating on the site for years. They’ve found five levels of civilization, the last of them (or first?) dating back to 2900 B.C.
I looked at the skulls and arrowheads and other relics that they’ve unearthed, and at the exhibits explaining how the glacial movements of eons ago formed the Long Island of today.
It really put the world in perspective for me again, and I began to feel much better. There were glaciers here, and there were Indians here in prehistoric times, and still the world manages to keep going on.
When I went outside, along the preserve’s nature trails, I felt even better about life. A warm rain was falling gently on the soft ground, and I felt an almost ecstasy, surrounded by huge trees, as I looked out.
Through the mist I could make out the rocky crag of the shore and the calm waters of the Sound. The air smelled beautiful, and I felt freer than I have in a long while as I made my way along the muddy, hilly trails through the woods.
The only sound besides the falling rain was a distant foghorn. For a minute I wished someone was with me: Ronna, Jonny, Rachel (I can see how she loves her life in a quiet small town) – but I was happy just being alone, too. The rain started to get harder, and so I headed back to the car, aware that I had affirmed life.
It was the perfect antidote for yesterday’s very unpleasant evening. After I picked up Simon at his shrink’s, we went over to Josh’s place. I was aware of a definite hostility on my part toward Simon; it’s been vague and latent for a while, but now of course I understand my instincts were correct.
I left Josh and Simon in Josh’s room and went to the kitchen to talk developmental psychology with Robbie, who was drinking his usual cup of tea. Then Simon and Josh joined us. Simon was pestering me to drive him to Chinatown, but I’m glad to say I refused since I wasn’t at all hungry and didn’t want to drive there.
Meanwhile, Josh and Robbie began laughing at something completely innocent and unrelated – the British TV show, Monty Python, was on – and I watched it and began to laugh too, in my usual high-pitched way.
Simon left the room sullenly, and after a while, Josh went in to see what the matter was. When they returned, Simon, pressed by Josh, admitted that he could not stand being around my laugh.
I found that so absurd that I began to laugh even more heartily, and Robbie and Josh joined me. Simon became furious and lashed out angrily at us, in particular me, because he felt my laughter was sadistic.
He was also angry with Josh for “manipulating the situation” so that he, Simon, looked like a fool. (At that point I didn’t think to say that he was doing a pretty good job by himself.)
We went to the Pub and had an angry meal, with Simon and Josh quarreling harshly. The whole thing upset me so much, I apologized – for what, I wasn’t sure (it reminded me of when I was a kid and would apologize when my parents quarreled, to get them to stop).
Finally we ended the evening with an uneasy truce, but after I dropped Simon off in the Heights – when he was mad at me, he was going home alone; he changed his mind only at the last minute, namely just as I got up to leave – Josh said that Simon told him why he left us on Henry Street that night: because my laughter upset him so. (And I felt so free that night, free enough to laugh heartily.)
When I got home, I realized that Simon is a sickie; it’s not me at all. And suddenly everything about Simon fit into place, and I couldn’t stand him.
Thursday, January 30, 1975
9 PM. I just came back from seeing the dubbed version of Scenes from a Marriage at a dollar theater. I had to get out of the house this evening because I was getting overwrought and fidgety after a day of writing.
I didn’t go into work today; I got as far as the subway station and realized that my ankles were too sore for me to schlep around Manhattan all day. I suppose I’ve been overdoing my jogging; my ankles hurt painfully when I put pressure on them.
The public library job starts on Monday, so I don’t think I’ll bother going back to the Voice. And so my job there, my tenure there, is ended abruptly, the way everything else in my life seems to end.
Actually, that’s the theme of the story I wrote today: “Roman Buildings.” (The title is a play on bildungsroman.) It’s very surrealistic and nightmarish and I think it’s probably too self-indulgent to be any good; but still, I tore a little bit of my flesh away as I wrote it.
Basically it stemmed from a trio of dreams I had last night, all having to do with my failure to cope with endings, with giving up things (which is probably why I had such a down feeling after finishing the story).
In one dream, I was at a restaurant and I had to order a hamburger because of the minimum charge (that’s what happened at the Pub with Josh and Simon – oh that awful scene), but I could not finish eating it.
In another dream, I received a letter from Richmond College reminding me of my unfinished thesis and how I wouldn’t receive an M.A. without it.
In the final and most frustrating dream, I was making love to a beautiful woman (she resembled Rachel more than anybody) but I couldn’t reach the point of orgasm.
And in the story I attempt to come to terms with this problem of mine, this difficulty of letting go, by employing these dreams and my recent dreams about Vicky, plus the embarrassing incident of my calling Vicky’s mother about the car.
I’ve used the statement, “There is an herb store in my dreams” throughout the piece, adding one word to the sentence before each dream-sequence of the story. To disguise it slightly – it is fiction, after all – I placed it in a Miami setting. But now it seems like a lousy story. It’s really too soon to tell, though.
My anger toward Simon is dissipating, but I still think he’s kind of sick. As Josh said, I cannot stop laughing the way I always have any more than I can stop breathing the way I always have.
I look back at my times with Simon, though, and everything becomes clear: that depression, even panic, he felt on Christmas Eve; his crazy relationships with his first girlfriend and with Naomi; his quirks. Yet can I judge Simon any more than I can judge Jerry?
Last night Gary came over and I accompanied him to Kings Plaza to help him select a sport jacket. Kay is away in Puerto Rico. Gary hinted that they’re already talking of marriage even though they do bicker somewhat. When Gary told me he bought her an expensive bracelet for her 21st birthday, I said that was nice; no sense in my imposing my values on Gary or dampening his happiness.
I was genuinely pleased to learn that this term Gary got a research assistantship with the chairman of his department at Columbia. It was all because of a chance meeting on a subway train that broke down.
Allan called last night. He said he’s alone in the apartment and happy about it. He assumed, though, that I knew that Evan will be moving in with him. I suppose that’s for the best, though I know Evan’s into the gay scene as much as anyone.
But there seem to be different “gay scenes,” and Evan seems, well, more stable and serious about being a violinist.
Allan said a lot of other things that took for granted that I already knew them. He said, or implied, that Jerry does not sleep with Shelli but that they get along fine. (The same is not true for Jerry and his in-laws, for now Jerry has moved out of Shelli’s parents’ place and is living with Leon.)
Allan also said that Leon doesn’t like straight people and that Elihu went to Wisconsin to see his lover, Leon’s friend Clark. Allan said he overheard a conversation of Elihu’s before they all went to Madison; it seems Elihu’s mother read some romantic letters Clark sent Elihu and she became hysterical.
All of Elihu’s friends call up and they hang up immediately when they find Allan answering the phone. Allan is certain that he recognized Elspeth’s voice when she did that the other night.