A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1975
by Richard Grayson
A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1975
Saturday, February 1, 1975
I feel very cheerful this evening; I’ve been singing and humming to myself.
Last evening I helped bring about a reconciliation between Allan and Josh. After I picked up Josh and Andy at Josh’s house, we drove up to Morningside Heights.
Josh’s brother and sister-in-law finally split up this week; Louisa changed the locks on the apartment, and Josh and his brother broke in to retrieve all of Ben’s things. Ben has been having a lot of hassles lately; today he opened a plant store near Kings Plaza to try to make some money he badly needs.
On the drive up, I couldn’t believe the way Andy and Josh were carrying on about how scared they were about going to Morningside Heights. I assured them I’ve never felt unduly alarmed walking around the neighborhood.
Finding Allan in his apartment, we all sat down and talked. I’ve always been the type of person that abhors conflict, so I try to smooth things over; not so Josh, who plays devil’s advocate all the time.
So Josh started cross-examining Allan about his lifestyle. I agree with Josh’s attitude rather than Allan’s, but I see no reason to challenge anyone’s way of life.
The differences between Allan on the one hand and Elihu, Leon, Jerry and Shelli on the other are ones of personality, not of substance: Allan is very much into going to Le Jardin and other gay bars like it, looking at all the “outrageous” people who are trying to outdo each other in “decadence.”
The whole scene sounds rather dreary to me: waiters in bathing suits on roller skates (“If you stare at them the right way, you’ll get a good drink,” Allan said), lots of glitter and camp and bright lights and picking up “tricks.”
No, that just makes me lean more toward blue-jeans-and-scrambled-eggs type of sex if that’s the alternative.
Allan said Elihu is coming back to the apartment tomorrow to pick up his things; he left Allan a $20 bill to cover the first week’s rent in February and a note saying, “I’ll be leaving whether or not I have a place to live.”
We all left Allan’s apartment and went to over visit a co-worker of his, Mancia Diaz, a very earthy, funny Dominican woman about 25 whom Josh, Andy and I found sexy.
After drinking some wine and watching TV shows, we had a big discussion of what to do. We ended up going to a party at one of the Columbia dorms. In the back of my mind, I was hoping that I might see Spring there, and as luck would have it, I met her in the dorm’s lobby.
Spring looked more beautiful than I’d ever seen her, in a white satin blouse and grey skirt and platform shoes, her fine cheekbones and straight brown hair making her look like some Greek statue.
Spring told me she had dated Sean again a couple of times last fall but doesn’t see him anymore. “He’s into dealing now, and being a stud, and I find him a pompous ass,” she said. “Which is exactly what, I think, you’ve always thought about him.”
I smiled sheepishly – am I that transparent? – and I asked her how she likes Barnard. She loves it, Spring said, and I could see she was enjoying herself; as we talked, lots of friends kept coming over to say hi to her.
Spring said Teresa claims she is very happy, but she’s still seeing Ted, that married guy. That reminded me that I need to give Teresa a call.
Spring also said that Costas sent her a birthday card, but she doesn’t see anyone but Teresa, who apparently likes her job. She asked about Ronna and school and Avis, and I told her everything, and she told me to send her my story.
We went up to the party – it was mostly an undergraduate affair, beer and loud music – and Josh wanted to leave right away. So we said goodbye to Allan and Mancia and drove back to Brooklyn although I wouldn’t have minded staying longer.
While we were having pancakes at the Floridian, Josh and Andy and I found every woman that walked in to be incredibly attractive; we decided that either we’re going mad or are all just extremely horny. If we’d stayed at the party, I said, they might have actually had a chance to meet a woman. I dropped them off at Josh’s at 2 AM.
This afternoon, as I was driving out to Rockaway, I saw Josh and Andy and Josh’s brother pushing plants on Avenue U.
When I arrived at her apartment, I found Grandma Ethel was in bed; she’s been sick all week with her famous headaches. I don’t think it’s anything serious, for all the tests have shown nothing.
Possibly she’s angry with Grandpa Herb for being sick this winter and causing her to miss going to Florida. Also, she may want Grandpa Herb to take care of her now rather than the other way around.
Grandpa Nat was also there – he had just come from “the place” in Manhattan, where he still works on Saturday mornings out of habit – and he and I went to see Scenes from a Marriage at the Surfside across the street. Grandpa Nat wanted to see it, but I’m afraid he was a bit bored by Bergman’s film.
On the way out of the theater, we met Mikey’s mother. She and Grandpa Nat – who’s been married to Grandma Sylvia for 55 years – agreed that the movie was way overrated, that they couldn’t see why the couple made a big megillah about every little thing.
She told me that Mikey is fine and that tomorrow night he’s going to Harris and Belinda’s wedding.
Monday, February 3, 1975
Consistency has never been my strong point, so I called Ronna last night. Even though I probably shouldn’t have, it ended well, thanks only to Ronna’s good sense and despite my own stupidity and boorishness.
The initial conversation went something like this, beginning with me:
“You didn’t call back.” (A lie on my part, to make my anger seem more righteous.)
“I did, but you were asleep.”
“I was going to call you tonight. But now we’re moving back the furniture. We’ve been painting.”
“Did you have any help?” (Probing to find out if her boyfriend was there.)
“Yes. Can I call you back?”
“Not really. I’m going to sleep early.”
“Well, so am I.”
I hung up with a distant and trailing-off “Okay, I’ll speak to you another time.”
And I seethed inwardly.
An hour later, Ronna called back. I told her, echoing the husband’s words in Scenes from a Marriage, “You can’t imagine how much I hate you.”
“I guess I can’t,” she said. “Why do you hate me?”
And I told her I didn’t really hate her, but that I was very, very angry with her because I felt she was a lousy friend who never called.
She said it was just a coincidence that she’s been busy every time I call.
As for calling me, she said, “A month ago I said I wanted to see you and you didn’t want to see me. I call you when I want to, not because of any obligation. When you hear from me, you’ll know it’s not out of routine but because I care and want to speak with you.”
That made me feel a bit stupid but also a lot better about things. Perhaps I’ve been crediting Ronna with more guile than she’s capable of.
So we began friendly chatter: I gossiped about various people, and when I said, “I saw Spring on Friday night,” I quickly added, “I don’t mean I saw her as in ‘seeing her,’ just that I ran into her at a party.”
(But I only said that because my first impulse was in fact to let Ronna believe that maybe I was seeing Spring – until I realized how schmucky trying to do that made me feel.)
Ronna said that she’s the same as ever. She’s going out with this guy, Jan, from her mother’s class: “He’s very sweet and more serious about me than vice versa.”
It turned out that Henry and Craig were the ones helping her paint. Henry started calling her again – I guess because he found out we had broken up – and they finally cleared up a two-year misunderstanding: Henry never understood why Ronna stopped seeing him and started seeing me.
But Ronna doesn’t think they can go back to seeing each other again: “Henry’s too smart for that,” she said.
When we finished our conversation, I didn’t exactly feel exuberant, but at least I had gotten the anger (most of it, anyway) out of my system, and I think I know where my friendship with Ronna is at.
Last night I also called Gary. He was just leaving to pick Kay up at JFK, so we didn’t talk long. But he did tell me that his brother-in-law was laid off from his job as a traffic supervisor because of budget cuts; more and more of that is happening to people.
Then Josh called to find out if I wanted to come over and play chess with him; I explained that I didn’t know how to play.
This morning I began my new job at the Flatbush branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Linden Boulevard not far from Flatbush Avenue. I had to be there at 8:45 AM. Mrs. Tobey, the chief clerk, showed me what I have to do every morning at that hour.
First, I must take the books we’ve received that need to go to other branch libraries, as well as to Grand Army Plaza, and put them in boxes, take them on the “trucks” (carts), put them in the lift (a dumb waiter) and then go to the conveyer belt where the man from the Interchange truck (a real truck) is and send him the books.
He then sends me our branch’s books, and I take them upstairs and screen them for reserved or lost books, take out transaction cards from the back pockets, and then put the books back on the shelves.
Mrs. Higgins, in charge of the part-timers and my immediate supervisor, has me in charge of 000-799 in Non-Fiction; that’s a kind of mezzanine above the first floor. So I sort out books and shelve them in their proper places.
The first day went fast, and in learning the routines, I did not feel like too much of an idiot, so this job may be okay for a while. Everyone is very kind although I have not yet met the head of the branch, who’s supposed to be a monster.
Tuesday, February 4, 1975
I’m getting used to my new routine and so far I’m satisfied with the way things are turning out. I have to get up early and go to sleep early, but there are distinct advantages to my new schedule.
My Comp Lit course meets on Monday at 6 PM and this term the Fiction Workshop meets from 4:40 PM to 6 PM, so I have my afternoons free to write and to exercise. So far I’ve been surprisingly productive: I wrote yesterday and today, 14 pages of a new story based on my diaries for May and June of last year.
And my feet are now in good shape, so I’m ready to begin Chart 2 of the Royal Canadian Air Force 5BX exercise plan. I’ve noticed I’m not so winded anymore after climbing up several flights of stairs.
Last evening I met Mara and Alex at school and walked them to their Nostrand Avenue bus stop. After visiting Phyllis in D.C. last weekend, Mara said that Phyllis sent me her regards, so I guess she and I are friends again. That is, “friends” in the sense of not hating each other.
To reciprocate Phyllis’ gesture, I gave Mara the gossip about Elihu, Elspeth, Shelli and Jerry, and I told her to entertain Phyllis – who appreciates good gossip more than anyone I know – with it.
Mara said she saw Vito on campus, and I hope to run into him soon. When their bus came, I wished Alex and Mara a good final undergrad semester at BC.
Walking to class, I saw Carole coming out of the Gershwin box office. She actually came over and kissed me. Carole has become decidedly hippier – that’s hippier, not hipper – meaning she’s gotten fat, but mostly in the hips.
She’s teaching a class of retarded kids at Tilden now. When we parted, I even said, “Say hello to Irving for me.” Who says I’m a snob?
There were about twelve people in my Comp Lit course, including Simon. I’ve decided to be cordial with him but not get too deeply involved in his mishigass.
The instructor, Thomas Colchie, is a youngish bearded academic. The course will focus on experimental stories and novellas from 20th century Europe and Latin America.
I’m excited about it, but I think there are too many Education people in the class: when Colchie read a Kafka story, they either gave up, finding it too “weird,” or rushed in to explain every symbol.
Work at the Flatbush library went quickly today. I did the book drop and the interchange and then shelved most of the books in my area. The branch librarian, a Miss Speiss (or something like that), seems like a real bitch, but I intend to stay clear of her. It’s quiet in the mornings, and my one frustration is not having a chance to read the books I’m working with.
When I arrived in our new room in Boylan late this afternoon, I discovered the Fiction Workshop had two new people: Anna (who seems more insipid than ever) and Sharon, a pretty but stiff-looking high school teacher.
Peter Spielberg came in and found out our names, assigned us tutors, and told us what he had in mind for the rest of the program. He assigned me to Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, which I’m happy about. The girls got Schaeffer too, while all the other guys will have Clarence Major.
Spielberg said we could call him Peter (but never “Pete”), yet in a way he seems more like a teacher than Baumbach, putting more distance between himself and us (perhaps because he has less self-confidence?).
He said that we’re “going to start with oral criticism, but if that doesn’t work out,” we’ll do written critiques of each other’s work! And he doesn’t want to use a mailbox; he wants us to xerox enough copies for everyone in the class.
I complained about the expense and asked him if he could see if he could get the English Department to xerox our work. He said okay, but added something about this teaching us to write sparser prose.
He doesn’t believe in reading the stories aloud and even thought of assigning us topics for stories. Spielberg said he doesn’t believe in creative writing programs, and he told us we each must hand in three stories, which of course is no problem for me.
I guess this should be an interesting experience, and it will probably make me appreciate Baumbach more. It’s just that Spielberg doesn’t understand that Barbara, Simon, Todd, Josh, Denis and I are an ongoing functioning unit, and he’s the one who’s the outsider.
Friday, February 7, 1975
It’s early afternoon and I’m feeling very comfortable. Today I enjoyed work and although last night I slept well, I think perhaps I will settle down for a snooze in a little while.
I’ve completed the first week of my new job and the new school semester, and I’m not dissatisfied with either. I have begun a routine, a very comfortable routine: I leave early in the morning, I work until noon, I come home and do my RCAF exercises, I eat lunch, and then I write or read, and if I have a class, I go off to school.
I don’t see many people anymore; it’s not like years ago when I would spend the day in LaGuardia and be with fifteen or twenty friends. But maybe this is better for me now: I have time to be with myself. I suppose all that socializing, pleasant as it was, was also in some way an avoidance of myself.
No sooner did I finish writing yesterday’s entry in the diary than I got a phone call from Elihu. I said I had just been thinking of calling him, and I made sure Elihu knew that I was quite pleased with his call.
“Do you know what’s going on here?” he asked me.
“I know the facts, but not the details,” I said, “and right now I don’t want to know the specifics.”
Elihu agreed. He told me he’ll be living at his parents’ home in Brooklyn until the summer, when he says he plans to return to Madison. Apparently he likes that place a lot – or he likes someone there a lot.
Elihu asked me not to tell Allan where he’s living, and I will respect his wishes even though I think Elihu plans to stick Allan with some bills.
I’m in a delicate and precarious position, and I must be careful or I’ll wind up with everyone hating me. Elihu has always been nice to me – in college, anyway, if not in high school – and I’ve noticed that he never mentions Shelli or Jerry’s name in my presence, so he clearly does have some consideration for me.
He started school at the Graduate Center this week and says he’s not used to going to classes.
Elihu said was shocked when Allan asked him to leave, but now he’s happy about it. Although I didn’t want to hear any details, I got the feeling he thinks that Allan just wanted Evan to be his roommate instead of him.
Anyway, I hope that this change will work out to everyone’s benefit in the long run.
At 4 PM yesterday, I went to see Susan Schaeffer. Prof. Heffernan and Prof. Mayers were also in the faculty office, so I chatted with them a bit. Schaeffer seems very nice. I told her how much I admired Falling and she seemed pleased.
Our tutorials will be for one hour every three weeks. The first thing I gave her to read is “The Peacock Room.” She said she suspects her method is different from Baumbach’s and Spielberg’s, and I told her that’s why I specifically requested her as my tutor.
I’ll see her next Tuesday. She said she likes Monty Python, and when I told that to Simon, he looked sad and said, “Yeah, my shrink said she does, too.”
I can just picture him telling his therapist about the brouhaha last week and how it started because I was laughing at Monty Python, which Simon felt was a horrible show, and then his shrink says, “But I enjoy Monty Python.”
Poor Simon: he’s such a schlep; he looks as if he was beaten up a lot as a kid. Now I realize who he reminds me of: Jerry, circa 1971, with that same hangdog expression and sense of desperation about him.
I enjoyed Spielberg’s class – although Josh clearly didn’t. We went over two pieces of Kafka’s, and I talked a lot, but Josh sat there in stony silence. After class, he called me from work. “What the fuck am I doing there?!” he asked.
He’s been saying the same thing since September. That’s Josh. I wouldn’t tell him this, but you have to put in something if you want to get something out of this program, or any program, or anything else in life.
I cannot believe how dumb Anna is. She wanted to know my sign so she asked me when my birthday is, and I said, “June 4 and 5 – I was born just between those two days.”
She nodded and said, “That’s very unusual.” She’s like a semi-moron. Anna said she got fired from a bank for making a $1,000 mistake. But I suppose I shouldn’t make fun of her.
Sunday, February 9, 1975
Perhaps because it’s the end of one week and the start of another, late afternoon on Sunday is a time to think about the past and the present and the future.
Driving home from Oceanside at 5 PM, going through the Five Towns and the Rockaways, I thought a lot about myself. Am I a man? I’m approaching the age of 24 – one-third of my life is gone – and yet I feel like I’m so short of my goals.
I feel uncomfortable learning to call females my age “women,” yet I feel much more uncomfortable with the idea of myself as a “man.” Not that I’m worried about not living up to the macho, hairy-chested Playboy-reading athletic stud: that’s not my idea of manhood.
For some reason I think of the squire in Bergman’s Seventh Seal: he was resourceful, cunning, kind, gentle, lusty. Or I think of Maslow’s self-actualized people.
Today Arlyne showed me an article by her brother on a study he did showing that self-actualized people make better psychological counselors. (For this Laurence got a $10,000 grant? It seems like common sense.)
I see my shortcomings. Don’t think I’m unaware of them. I avoid things, I fear change, I’m scared of separations, I lack discipline. But I am closer now to being who I’d like to be, I guess, than I have ever been before.
I suppose no one ever achieves his full potential – but so much seems to be wasted in life.
What do I have to show for my life? My writing is the most important thing in my existence, and all I have is this diary, a dozen or so short stories, endless jottings in notebooks, phrases and titles scattered here and there (“A generation in law school,” “The Unfinished Simile,” “Anhedonia,” etc.)
And what about love? Sometimes I feel, as Liv Ullman did in the last part of Scenes from a Marriage that the fact that I’ve never loved anyone or been loved by anyone is a source of continuing anguish to me.
Other times I agree with Erland Josephson in that movie: I have loved, and I have been loved, in a human and imperfect way.
Perhaps I shouldn’t go on like this; perhaps I should stick to observing and reportage. Is this all just a pose, some intellectual masturbation? I know I enjoy the melodrama of the Bellovian protagonist, the angst- and ennui-ridden personality.
This evening I saw Josh coming out of his brother’s plant store, and he wanted me to come over to his house, but I told him I had to go home and read Kafka for my Comp Lit class.
“Okay,” Josh said, “but he’ll only break your heart.”
I can see now that I treasure Rachel’s love in her letters because it is given so freely, without question: that is how I love her, too. But were we to meet and she were to become my friend or my lover, it would not continue that way.
This morning I had a dream about being on top of the World Trade Center. I wasn’t frightened of being all the way up there, but I was scared to go down.
(I realize this is all terribly unorganized writing, but Rachel writes this way, and despite her protests, I think one sometimes gets a clearer picture without so much control.)
Ronna will not call tonight. She does not realize that she’s angry with me and that not calling me is a way of hurting me. She can’t be so calm and rational about the end of our relationship; I don’t believe her cool.
Yet today everyone is in a state of paralysis near to catatonia. Nobody knows what’s going on inside them because they’re afraid to find out.
Early this afternoon I picked up Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel (her headaches are gone; both Arlyne and I are certain they’re psychogenic) and we went to Oceanside. Marty and Grandpa Herb watched sports by the fireplace; my cousins each had a friend over; and Grandma Ethel and I talked with Arlyne.
Arlyne would like to find a part-time job, something leading to a career. Otherwise, she says, she’ll go crazy. So many of her friends are becoming active in the Women’s Movement and divorcing their husbands (who usually then find girlfriends fifteen years younger): these women have just discovered how dissatisfied they are with their lives.
Arlyne is very active in community affairs, and she’s fairly happy – but that’s due in great part to all the therapy she had.
From my grandparents, I learned that Grandpa Nat has gone back to Miami for a while, to stay with Grandma Sylvia, who was tired of being alone there.