A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, March 23, 1975
1 PM. I just called Rachel. I realized what a hard thing it would be for her to do, just calling me out of the blue, so I decided to take a risk and do it. There were awkward pauses in our conversation, and we both sounded very lame.
But I’m glad I did it, no matter what the outcome of our meeting is. I’m going over to her house in an hour. Who knows what will happen? Probably nothing. But still, this has already been a great experience for me. I’ve taken risks and reached out and touched a stranger, and it all worked – so far.
If we don’t get on – well, it can’t be helped. I don’t want to think about it now; intellectualizing or fantasizing will not be of any help.
Last night I amazed myself by having a great time at Allan’s house. At first, I expected the night would be a disaster: I ran into heavy traffic, and it took me a long time to get to Morningside Heights.
And when I arrived, there were only eight or nine people standing around uncomfortably: Evan, Fat Ronnie, Mancia and a few others.
I grabbed a drink and tried to look nonchalant. Eventually more people arrived: friends from Allan’s office, and Evan’s friends from the Manhattan School of Music. Finally Josh and Andy showed up, fresh from seeing Maddy’s play at Brooklyn College.
Fat Ronnie was passing out joints like there was no tomorrow – he told me that his “expedition to Colombia was a complete success” – and I got somewhat stoned. But what I like even more is acting stoned: that way you can act silly and say ridiculous things and get away with it.
This morning Josh called to say that I’d made a spectacle of myself at the party, that I acted outrageously. I don’t care; I’ll never see most of those people again and it was great for me to lose control, to let myself laugh until my sides ached.
Everything that was so hysterical then seems ridiculous now, but I can still put myself back in the situation and remember how funny I was. To one guy who told me he’d gone to high school with Evan, I said, “Are you just trying to impress me that you went to high school?”
It was an egotrip to answer people’s question, “What do you do?” with “Teach English.” One gay guy asked me, “How are your students?” and I replied, “Delicious.”
I met Serle, Allan’s pre-med fencer friend, and Mancia tried to get me to dance with her, and I listened to Evan’s friend Deborah, a singer, who chattered on ridiculously, making endless non sequiturs.
There was one guy there, a cute blond BMCC English major (naturally, I asked him, “What regiment?”) that I particularly goofed on. I was acting superior and obnoxious, but he knew that I was only trying to be funny, because when I left, I apologized to him and he smiled and shook my hand warmly.
Andy was also having a terrific time. These mustached male nurses were trying to pick him up all evening, but apparently Andy wouldn’t be able to tell someone is gay unless he is wearing an “I am a fag” button, and these guys were grooving on his naïveté.
At one point, I yelled out, “There are too many cellists here!” and people, especially Fee and Lisa, Fat Ronnie’s friends who looked like whores, stared at me as if I were mad.
But the whole thing was like an archaeological expedition into a strange culture. Mancia pointed out to me and Josh who the few heterosexuals were. I think Josh could “have gotten into Mancia’s pants” (as he so delicately put it) but he just sat and talked with her, trying not to appear too uncomfortable.
Evan’s zucchini bread and carrot cake were delicious. He’s such a nice guy. I left the party after 2 AM, driving this very sweet girl Julie, a violinist at Juilliard, to the train at 96th Street. I would have driven her home, but she lived all the way up in the Bronx.
I arrived home in the early morning; it was still fairly warm out. I had forgotten how nice it was to be out on the town on a Saturday night.
Monday, March 24, 1975
2 PM on a rainy Monday. Twenty-four hours ago, I met Rachel, and now I don’t know what’s happening to me. I rode the car aimlessly a while ago, going up and down blocks at random.
I find myself staring into space, eating and yet not tasting my food. I’ve caught a cold for the first time in months. I can’t put my mind to anything. I think I’m in love.
“In love”? Is it possible to be in love with someone you just met yesterday? This is very, very unlike me; usually I want to go through things cautiously as I intellectualize in order to stay in control. But now I feel I’m plunging into something overwhelming.
That can’t be good, can it? Am I just play-acting? No, because I really feel it. I can’t believe it: I’m a college instructor and I feel like a boy in junior high with his first crush. I’ve never really felt quite like this before, and I don’t understand it and I’m afraid of it.
Yet the funny thing is: I don’t even care if I get hurt; somehow it will be worth it. I don’t know. I’m being ridiculous and not making sense, I know. Every word I write takes great effort.
For once, I’m unable to describe yesterday in a facile, chronological, detached Henry James/observer style. I’ll try the best I can.
About Rachel: When I got to her house in Canarsie, I heard her playing the piano. She came to the door, and she was beautiful, more beautiful than I had ever remembered her being the one time I saw her briefly at Sugar Bowl.
She’s short and has thick, luxurious light brown hair that falls over her shoulders. She has very bluish-greenish eyes; her face is fantastic.
(Denis just called. He said I sounded “far away” and “in a dream.” I told him to have a good time in Colorado for spring vacation.)
Rachel again: she isn’t fat, but she’s lusciously plump. She was wearing an Indian gauze shirt unbuttoned two buttons (I can tell she has beautiful breasts), jeans and a navy blazer-thing.
I said hi to her father – her house reminds me of ours – and we drove off. I suggested we go to the Promenade, but I was so lame that I took a circuitous route to the Heights through Bed-Stuy, where everyone was coming from Palm Sunday services.
After we bought her cigarettes, we walked on the Promenade, sat on a bench overlooking lower Manhattan, had lunch at Picadeli. Mostly we talked and got to know each other. I feel that I talked too much, and there seemed to be no logical order in what I said. She didn’t seem to mind, though.
I babbled on about my therapy and teaching and writing and Shelli and Jerry and Ronna and the whole LaGuardia scene. Stupidly, I hardly gave her a chance to speak. But I did learn a lot about her.
I’ve never been interested in music, but since she was four years old, Rachel and music seem to have gone together. She’s not sure she wants to continue with her piano; often she wonders why she’s doing it.
Rachel said something I found fascinating: often, in Fredonia, she’ll feel like she was dropped there and will not know what she’s doing there; she talks about this with her counselor.
She’s very open and receptive to therapy and seems relatively nonjudgmental. When I told her about my homosexual feelings, she said, “But wouldn’t you like to try it, just for the experience?”
She’s so independent and good-humored and self-sufficient. Rachel has been working since she was 14: she lied about her age and got a job at Loew’s Georgetown as an usherette; they fired her when they found out she wasn’t 18.
Mostly she’s worked as a waitress, both in Brooklyn and at Catskills hotels (one summer she lived in a bungalow there with Mark, her boyfriend).
In high school she was a rebel, active and popular, but when she went to Brooklyn College freshman year, she would just hang out in the music library, working, or in Boylan cafeteria, writing passionate letters to Mark at Emory in Atlanta. That relationship ended over a year ago, but it’s still on her mind.
There’s so much more I could write. Rachel reminds me a bit of Debbie, and at times she sounds like Ronna (Rachel is the only person besides Ronna I’ve ever known to use the word “scuzzy”).
She’s bright but she’s not into literature or politics. She’s so much younger than me, but she seems more mature – mature, not phony sophistication.
At her house again, we said we wanted to see one another, and we made up to meet in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday; I was afraid to see her sooner. I have things to do, but I can’t do them because I’m thinking about Rachel.
Tuesday, March 25, 1975
It’s a gorgeous spring day. Tonight I just have to teach my class at LIU and then I’ll be free – completely free – for the next two weeks.
Brooklyn College is over for spring vacation. Once again, I didn’t go to Comp Lit last night; such a thing is unlike me, but I feel I did the right thing. So now I’ll be able to spend my days as I want to.
After resting yesterday and thinking things through, I feel much more rational about Rachel. I called her this morning, but she said she was busy today so we kept our meeting for tomorrow at Sugar Bowl.
Whatever happens or fails to happen between us is fine with me. If that sounds too casual about love, well, I just don’t know. If we do get along, fine; if we don’t, there’s nothing either of us can do about it.
Alice is already saying, “So? When’s the wedding?” like a parody of a Jewish grandmother. But I’m still Cautious Cuthbert, and in recent months I’ve grown increasingly fatalistic. Things are or they aren’t.
Last night I slept very well and woke up from a pocketful of dreams with nary a symptom of weariness or a cold. I’m in good shape. Just having the guts to call Rachel again and not taking it personally when she said she was busy: that proves it.
Josh called on Sunday night, wanting to know if I’d join him and Andy and Simon and Simon’s sister and his friend Louis for clams at Randazzo’s. I declined. I don’t like clams, I felt like being alone, and I didn’t want to share Simon’s company, as his cynical, hostile remarks bring me down.
Yesterday, while Rachel was in the ladies’ room in Picadeli, I met that woman Megan in our Comp Lit course. Simon has been doing everything possible to get it on with her, but she couldn’t even remember Simon’s name.
I want to be with positive people, like Rachel, who’s open and receptive to numerous possibilities; at least that’s how she appears so far.
I ran into Elayne on her way to work at the Art Department today. She seemed distinctly depressed, almost bitter. Stefanie brought Carol over to see Elayne on Sunday night because Carol is getting involved with Leroy and Stefanie wanted her to get the benefit of Elayne’s experienced advice about him.
Then, walking off campus, I found myself face to face with Shelli and Jerry. We said hello, and Shelli suggested we go for coffee. Jerry said he wanted to have an egg cream before they left New York for good, so we went to Sugar Bowl.
Jerry insisted on paying for my lime rickey – in that respect, he hasn’t changed – and I did not protest. We sat in a booth, me opposite them. Jerry looked away most of the time; either he couldn’t or didn’t want to maintain much eye contact with me.
Shelli had a cold. She’s heavier than ever and she seemed to be having difficulty breathing. The conversation was a bit awkward, and Shelli did most of the talking.
They just got back from Wisconsin, but they’re moving there in two weeks – into a house with Clark, who I remembered was Elihu’s “friend.” They said they knew I was teaching, and Shelli mentioned that Dr. Farber’s been checking up on me and he’s heard very nice things. From whom, I wonder?
(On Sunday, Elihu had called me, saying maybe we’d get together over vacation. He pumped me about information about Evan moving into the apartment on West 120th Street and said, “That’s what was behind everything.”)
Shelli and Jerry were both fired from their jobs in New York, his as a counterman in a Chinatown Carvel’s, hers as an office gal Friday. So they’ve got nothing to lose in leaving the city.
“We didn’t intend to move to Madison,” Shelli said.
“We didn’t intend to get married,” Jerry added. “We didn’t intend to move to Boston. I didn’t intend to come out. But here we are.”
They are heavily into the gay scene. They used expressions I didn’t understand, like “hard lady,” but I just smiled politely, my eyes down, looking at my glass.
I inquired about Sindy and Kieran, and that brought forth hilarious stories about living in filth and Sindy and Kieran not being able to comprehend Shelli and Jerry’s lifestyle.
After we’d finished our drinks, I excused myself, thanked Jerry for the lime rickey, and wished them well in Madison. And I walked out in my sweatshirt and Pumas, aware of no hostility toward them.
I felt virtually nothing but irony. I don’t pity them or ridicule them or like them. I certainly don’t hate them. And I find it hard to imagine that once Shelli and Jerry could affect me so strongly back in what seems like a long time ago.
Friday, March 28, 1975
5:30 PM. I’m so nervous right now. I must have changed my clothes half a dozen times and I’m still not satisfied with the way I look. In an hour I’ll be seeing Ronna for the first time in four months.
The way it came about was this: After class on Tuesday night, I was in a very “up” mood, so I phoned Ronna, intending to chat pleasantly. She wasn’t home, so I spoke to her mother instead.
Ronna’s grandmother, it turned out, was quite ill with pneumonia, and they were all helping prepare the seder while Mrs. Weinberger was in bed. Mrs. C and I talked for a bit, about my teaching and her recent trip to Florida, and she said she’d have Ronna call me.
Then, on Wednesday evening, I unexpectedly received a call from Ronna. It had slipped my mind that she might call, as I’d been so preoccupied thinking of Rachel. Ronna said she couldn’t talk long, but she wanted to know if I’d like to go to the movies with her tonight, and I immediately agreed.
I really wanted to go; also, I felt funny, as Ronna’s been wanting to see me for over a month now and I keep putting her off or canceling our dates. But now a lot of time has passed, the winter is over, I’ve endured, survived and maybe even triumphed.
Besides, my meeting with Jerry and Shelli went well, and perhaps it would be good, I thought, for me to confront another important person from my past. Also, I have an appointment with Mrs. Ehrlich this Tuesday night – I made it a week ago when I was so depressed after my first night of teaching at LIU – and if there’s any trauma, we can handle it in therapy.
Wow: Shelli and Ronna and Rachel, all in one week. I do hope Rachel calls me this weekend. On Wednesday I had asked her about tonight and she said she was seeing some friends. I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ve been too casual about Rachel.
When I called Alice, she seemed deeply disappointed at my attitude. Maybe I should be more aggressive and throw off more sexual vibrations; I may still be in the “friendly good guy” bag, the way I was with Avis and Debbie three years ago.
Part of it is that, deep down, I don’t really feel worthy of Rachel. (I felt the same way about Avis and Debbie.) I’m threatened by her too-good looks and personality, and I wish she could be aggressive first; that would take so much of the pressure off me.
It’s that first touch, that first kiss: I worry about rejection is what it all comes down to. Right now I’m afraid I couldn’t handle it if she pulled away (in disgust? in amusement?). That’s one reason I’m a bit apprehensive about seeing Ronna tonight.
Even though so many weeks have passed, Ronna is still so familiar to me. I can touch her and know she’ll respond, on at least some level. I don’t know what tonight will accomplish, other than to “test” ourselves.
We can’t go back to what we had; neither of us wants to. And for all I know, Ronna is having an affair with someone by now. Still, old loves die hard, as both she and I know after unpleasant experiences with Ivan and Shelli.
When I saw Shelli this week, enough time and distance had elapsed so that we were no longer interested in each other sexually. I can’t imagine ever having been Shelli’s lover, and I’m sure she feels the same way about me, especially in view of her own “open” marriage.
What I really fear tonight is one of those “Scenes from a Marriage” : those gut-wrenching arguments, with the bitterness, the sarcasm, one person trying to prove something to the other.
Both Ronna and I are human, and despite good intentions, we may fall back to that mess. Already I’ve tried to think up ways I can work Rachel into a conversation or mention that I saw Stefanie last week. I could kick myself for wanting to encourage Ronna to be jealous, especially when it’s so unwarranted – but there it is: I’m human.
I’m also wondering if I can restrain my curiosity about the men Ronna sees; I’m sure I’ll be angry, jealous and cynical to hear about them. (Are they taller than me? Better looking? Better in bed?) I feel like calling the whole thing off, as I did before – but it’s too late now.
We’ve both changed so much, I know, but have we changed enough to stop hurting each other? Frankly, I doubt it.
Saturday, March 29, 1975
Last evening went better than I ever could have hoped for. Ronna and I had a delightful time: not one harsh or cynical word was exchanged. It would be nice to think that’s a sign of our maturity and our genuine affection for each other. Actually, I was quite proud of both of us.
I was nervous when I went to Ronna’s house; it was so odd, driving up Ronna’s block again, parking in her driveway, walking up the stairs to her apartment, being greeted by her barking dog.
Her sister and Hank were in the kitchen. Quite obviously Hank is now a fixture in the Caplan household; he even painted the living room the other day.
It was weird to see Ronna again after so many months: at certain moments, it seemed like our breakup had never taken place and that we were just going out on a Friday night like we used to. The first few minutes were uncomfortable – we both admitted we were apprehensive – but after that, we began talking with ease.
Ronna looks much the same. Her hair’s a bit longer, and she may have lost a little weight, but she’s still old Caplan.
We went out to Rockaway, to see Harry and Tonto at the Surfside. Talking before the movie, I told Ronna about my encounter with Shelli and Jerry, and I asked her if she’d see Ivan recently. She said she called him on Thursday to wish him a happy Passover, but he wasn’t home so she spoke with Ivan’s mother.
Ronna told me that Felicia’s shower went well. She saw Felicia’s old boyfriend Kevin there when he came to pick up his new girlfriend. He was always so skinny, but now he’s emaciated. Kevin is afraid eating will make him sick, so all he eats is white bread. The poor guy sounds very neurotic.
I enjoyed seeing Harry and Tonto again, and it was nice to share it with Ronna, who seemed to like the film. We turned and smiled at each other at times in the theater: kind of old-lover glances that were familiar to us.
Afterwards, we went to the Ram’s Horn diner on Beach 116th Street. Ronna had eggs and potatoes (she’s trying to observe Passover) and I had a bagel.
She’s unhappy with her job and hopes to quit next month. As long as she’s not going to school, she figures, she might as well be making more money; right now she barely nets $100 a week.
I talked about my job at LIU and other stuff. I did mention seeing Stefanie but made it clear that we were just friends by saying, “Stefanie’s finally found a guy she likes who treats her right.” Ronna did not mention any of her dates by name.
We drove back to my house, where she said hello to Mom and Dad, and we went up to my room. She looked at the changes in the room: new books, new posters, the piece of driftwood I found at Garvies Point.
She read some of my stories, and I read some of them aloud. Ronna thinks I’ve improved a great deal, and she especially liked “Garibaldi in Exile.”
She had to be home at midnight to receive a call from Susan, with whom she was going out this morning to pick out bridesmaids’ gowns for Felicia and Spencer’s wedding. Also, today was Felicia’s birthday, and they had to decide what to write on her card.
Ronna and I made it clear that we would like to see each other again, but we didn’t talk seriously about our relationship. I love her deeply, as a friend, and a part of me still wants to be her lover; I felt the beginnings of a couple of erections during the evening.
But I did not touch her until I dropped her off at her house at midnight. I said, “May I kiss you?” and she said, “I was going to ask you to.” I kissed her lightly on the lips, and she went upstairs.
So – this week I managed to clear up some of the emotional debris from my past love affairs. I am now Ronna’s good friend, and I am cordial with Shelli and Jerry. And I feel good about it all.
I couldn’t get to sleep until very late last night, so I didn’t wake up until 1 PM today, feeling somewhat bedraggled. But I forced myself to do my Royal Canadian Air Force exercises – I’ve now made it up to Chart 5 – and that woke me up some.
Monday, March 31, 1975
10 PM. I’ve just been watching a program on public TV about depression. As I approach my appointment with Mrs. Ehrlich tomorrow night, I think more and more about my own mental health.
“Mental illness” is a relative term, but I do believe I was once mentally ill. That period of depression, of staying in the house between September 1968 and about May or June of 1969, was surely a pathological thing.
But then again, maybe I needed that time to break down completely so I could restore myself to “health” again. I believe that human beings move in a basically positive direction, into a direction of self-healing.
I wonder, if I had the financial resources, would I return to psychotherapy on a regular basis? It seems to me that I’ve functioned well these past six months without therapy; at times I’ve even surprised myself.
Last night I had a dream which left me feeling completely exhilarated. It was simple: I was in a boxing ring, wearing boxing gloves and trunks, fighting another guy.
He was muscular and a good boxer, but so was I, and I gave as good as I got. I didn’t get knocked out or even hurt at all; we just kept exchanging blows. Two guys fighting has always had a homosexual element to me, and it was there in the dream, but there was something more.
I felt as if I were fighting for my life, that I was fighting against the setbacks life hands me, and I was coming out okay, if not completely triumphant. (I didn’t KO my opponent.)
I can rely on myself now. Even to the extent that my exercising so much has given me bigger muscles, I feel much more comfortable with my body. I’ve always been comfortable with my mind; in the past I’ve depended too much on my intellect.
Now my body and mind seem to be working in combination more. I still have a very long way to go, but when I look back on where I’ve been and compare that to what I have now, to what I am now – well, it’s a miracle.
Writing has helped so much. Lately I’ve become very excited about the possibilities of what I call Writing Therapy. I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t have my writing as an outlet for my feelings.
In the future, I’d like to develop a pilot program of writing therapy. I want to use various exercises in writing to help people get in touch with their feelings, for I am still very interested in mental health.
Last night I just took out a piece of paper and began rewriting “Coping,” that story I wrote four years ago. I’ve made Helene Crane a heterosexual, a Barnard Anthro major living with her boyfriend. I’ve set the story on the Saturday after Kent State, and I want to have her interact in situations with her boyfriend, her sister and her step-grandfather, who is modeled completely on Grandpa Nat.
I’ve even kept the name “Grandpa Ike” for the character, to make him the same as the one in “Early Warnings.” Thus, Helene Crane is the step-cousin of Mike Tate, who appears in “Early Warnings” as well as “Reflections on a Village Rosh Hashona.”
And I’ve even included Evan Kiviak and Sari from “The Peacock Room” in this story. It’s sort of like Faulkner’s mythical Yoknapatawpha County; I want to have characters reappearing again and again, in various forms, in my “representational” fiction.
I’m sort of going back to my old idea of my Tate family stories, the ones I wrote in 1970-71. Right now I’m going to work with two garment-center Jewish families, the Kiviaks and the Tates (obviously based on Ivan’s family and my own relatives).
I worked feverishly all day, writing in the BC library, typing in my room. I wrote 15 pages, which is definitely a good day’s work. But I think I’ll let the story percolate for a while; I’ve got to maintain some distance to be able to judge the work, and anyway, my eyes are tired.
On Saturday, Alice showed me a story Baumbach had in the new issue of Esquire, about a baby in love with his babysitter; it was good and very weird. But I find realistic fiction as exciting as I do “experimental” fiction. “Coping” is a very unliterary story, somewhat political and sociological (or anthropological). It gives me rein to use my intellect in a different direction.