A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, April 12, 1975
It’s a beautiful afternoon, and I’m feeling happier, more filled with joy, than I have in many weeks. I’ve felt like this only a few times in the past six months: that day in November when I drove out to Hempstead Lake Park and one Friday afternoon in January when I was working as a messenger for the Voice.
The very air is suffused with sweetness, and tears are welling up in my eyes as I write this. These are the moments when I understand what I’m doing on this planet. “Act, Mami, das ist so schön.”
Ronna was in front of her building, wearing a navy blue shirt and blue tights, when I picked her up at 5:30 PM yesterday. When she got into the car, I kissed her on the cheek and noticed she was carrying Keats’ complete poems.
We drove up to 34th Street, having decided to see Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and had dinner at this nice coffee shop, Leon’s, on Second Avenue. Ronna ordered a chopped liver sandwich (she used to do that all the time for her anemia) while I had a hamburger.
We talked about my teaching and her job; she booked that model author on a Washington talk show today. But Ronna feels that she wants to leave ARCO although I bet it will be hard for her to. Cathy, her boss, and Gwen, the Filipina girl she works with, are very fond of her; she showed me the heart-shaped thing on a chain that they bought her for her birthday.
It was the most pleasant meal I’ve had in quite some time. It was still light out when we walked into the theater. The film was very good, and Ellen Burstyn deserved the Best Actress Oscar.
It’s so good to share things with someone again. We drove back into Brooklyn and had Carvel ice-cream sodas on Nostrand Avenue, laughing at our own belching. We talked about Kevin getting married, Felicia’s August wedding, and Rose’s engagement.
Rose’s wedding won’t be for a year; she went out with her future husband right after Eddie, then they broke up but eventually got back together again. I guess both Ronna and I appreciated the irony in that, but we didn’t say anything.
Back in my room, I gave Ronna her birthday card and present; she said she’d been looking all over for Forever Panting; earlier in the evening, she’d asked if she could borrow my copy, so I knew it was the perfect gift. The title comes from Keats, which made it seem even more appropriate.
We sat on my bed, with a basketball game on TV, and stared at each other. I kept getting this fluttery feeling in my stomach, wanting to reach out to her.
I said, “You’re making me a little nervous,” and giggled stupidly. She said she felt the same way. So we decided to play Scrabble, which was fun. She said she’s been playing a lot with Henry and she always beats him, but tonight I won.
I took her home at midnight, for she and Susan were to buy their bridesmaids’ gowns this morning. At her house, I shut off the engine and kissed her once, then again; then I hugged her tightly and told her to have a very happy birthday.
It felt so good to hold Ronna. She got out of the car, opened the gate, hesitated and came back. I opened the window and said, “What’s the matter?”
“I just wanted to kiss you goodnight again,” she said. So we did, somewhat awkwardly, through the window. It was the nicest kiss of my life. I went home to bed and had the most pleasant dreams.
Today I went out to Rockaway and stopped in at the Sarretts’. Grandma Ethel left to play cards, so Grandpa Herb and I talked about his two years in Manila when he was in the army in the 1920s.
Then the Philippines was an American protectorate, ruled by Gen. Leonard Wood from Baguio. Grandpa Herb told me about his buddy Tom Moore from Omaha (they ran card games together) and an earthquake he woke up to one morning and how he had to guard a corporal who’d killed a sergeant in a fight and about the tortuous ride up to Baguio and how cold it was there and about the Walled City outside the Pasig River and about the natives’ mummies.
It all sounds so exotic and extraordinary but also reminiscent of what’s been happening in Vietnam. As I walked along the boardwalk later, I decided there must be a story somewhere in all that stuff about the Philippines.
Monday, April 14, 1975
April is nearly half-over, and yet every morning when I wake up, the temperature is still in the thirties. I need the warmth of the sun. I want to get tan again and put my snorkel jacket away for good.
I phoned Ronna last evening in the middle of her birthday festivities. She wanted to know if she could call me back, but I told her I just wanted to wish her a happy birthday.
I had two callers myself last night. First Libby phoned to ask me a question about intransitive verbs; Mason had told her to call me because he wasn’t sure. I hope I didn’t lead Libby astray with my answers and explanations.
I’m so fond of Libby and her delightful who-the-hell-cares attitude about life; she plunges headlong into things.
Then Gary called; if anyone is Libby’s opposite, it has to be Gary.
Yesterday he went to an unveiling with Kay. Although he didn’t even know the person, he felt it was his “obligation” to go because of his “status as Kay’s boyfriend” (Gary’s words).
He’s better now, but for how long? Now that I think about it, one can almost sense the rigidity in Gary. His gestures and the way he holds himself are so stiff and formal. Now I could never see Libby having an anxiety attack because she’s so in touch with her feelings.
“In touch”: she’s always touching people, which is so nice. I have to admire Libby in that she considers her needs first. In Sugar Bowl on Wednesday, her boyfriend Nicky came over, and after watching them, I can see that Libby is never cruel and not wantonly promiscuous but just seems to know how to get pleasure.
She’d laugh at Gary’s talk of his “boyfriend status,” as she isn’t anything to Mason, Melvin, Nicky, David, etc. – she just does and feels.
Sometimes I try to shock Gary out of his concern with the shoulds, but I’m afraid he’ll never get to even the point where I am – which is certainly far from total liberation. I may never get to be like Libby, but I’d like to move in that direction. Will I ever be the person I want to be?
I wrote Avis a long letter, but it’s so frustrating communicating with her in that way. I miss her long black hair, her face, her skinny body, the way she talks: writing is no substitute for face-to-face contact. You can’t hug anybody in a letter.
I lay awake a long time last night, thinking back on my life. I’m so glad I’m not afraid of the truth anymore. Mom, and especially Dad, would rather be ostriches than human beings, and unfortunately both Marc and Jonny seem to subscribe to their way of life.
The quality I’m most grateful for is my inability to accept the obvious: my curiosity. If I die tonight, I’ve already had a full life, a rich life. I have two imperfect but loving parents, four grandparents and two brothers. I have had many friends and I’ve been in love and people have loved me.
I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot of beautiful things. There are times when I feel that I’m very “together,” that I understand myself, that I’m no longer so scared.
Today I went to see Susan Schaeffer give a lecture in SUBO. I really admire her, for she seems to be “together.” She says her dream is to stay in the Neponsit Home for the Aged for a few weeks and to be waited on and not have to do anything, as she’s been teaching full-time since she was 23.
Susan appears to be such a “regular” person despite her recent success. “You go to another city and people make a fuss over you like you were something special,” she said. “And then you go home and your family still thinks you’re lazy and your kids think you’re stupid or whatever.”
I wonder how I’d cope with success, although I don’t think it’s something I’ll have to worry about for some time. Another rejection notice today: California Quarterly sent back “New Haven,” saying that the idea was good but nothing happened in the end – which is a valid criticism.
Tonight I have Comp Lit, so I’d better get ready to return to the college.
Thursday, April 17, 1975
10 PM. I’m flying so high tonight after really getting off on teaching. Making contact with my class, having them get an idea or laugh at a joke or just be open with me – it’s the best feeling in the world, next to creating something.
I am a teacher now, their teacher, and I am honest with them and don’t pretend to be something I am not. In a way I feel great love for my students: for Ms. Mackey, the sparkplug of the class, who always has something to say; for Mr. Anaso, a smiling West Indian businessman with terrible handwriting; for Ms. Marryshow, silent and shy, who wrote about the anxiety she felt during an operation on her son’s scrotum (how that moved me, those incoherent but deeply felt sentences); for Mr. Carey, who seems to be judging me as a young punk – but I saw him interested tonight and think I’ve won him over.
Teaching is better than therapy – and they pay me! (Although not much and not often). All I know is that driving home down Flatbush Avenue tonight I felt whole, I felt loved and I felt fulfilled.
Also, the weather helped, as today was a real spring day. Just last night, I lay in bed thinking that I was becoming asexual, neuter, a sublimating machine. But I awoke feeling just the right amount of horniness to get me through the day, and once outside, the warmth of the sun made me feel loose and free and sensuous.
When I arrived on the Brooklyn College campus at 4 PM, the quadrangle was filled with squatters and frisbee players and marijuana smokers.
I smiled to Henry, who was sitting with two girls, as I joined Denis and some other people in a circle (most of them I knew only by sight). Denis and I caught a glimpse of one pretty girl in a skirt whose thighs and more were exposed by a passing breeze.
I’m now open about my homosexual feelings, too, hiding them only from my family, not hiding them from anyone else or myself. I feel open to so many things now.
I like Denis a lot although we’ve never really gotten along; we’re such opposites. But he’s very engaging and charming, and in the end I think he’s real.
Class is so much fun. We’re like a big, raucous family, and I love the chatter and the playfulness, which is the only thing left that reminds me of the old LaGuardia days.
We did Anna’s story today. She writes about high-school-girl things, but somehow she’s a natural; her words have a flow that is almost hypnotic. At one point I started to laugh, and Peter said it was not sincere laughter and Simon said, “You should hear his other laugh.”
I turned to Josh and repeated a phrase from last week’s Monty Python: “Well, I certainly didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”
Barbara brought me a present, and I was touched, even though it was only a book she got from her sister Joanne, who works in a publishing house and who, incidentally, knew who Alice Keppel was. The book was on T.S. Eliot, whom Barbara hates but she knows I like.
After class, Denis, Todd, Anna, Sharon and I went to Sugar Bowl and had a great old time; I truly love all of them.
Anna is precious and I like to tease her; I told her she should fix me up with her sister who’s my age. Anna said she described me to her in such flattering terms that her sister said, “He sounds like he’s six feet tall.” Us shrimps like to hear that sort of thing.
I respect Sharon too, ever since I realized she’s not as much as a Jewish-American princess as I’d originally thought. Simon can be difficult to get along with, but he also can be very pleasant as well.
Baumbach, Spielberg announced today, has said he’s willing to sublet his house on Montgomery Place to us this summer for a nominal fee. It’s an idea worth considering, I guess.
On my way to my car, I ran into Melvin riding a bicycle. He said he’s still going to BC and working. Melvin’s attempting to grow a beard, but it isn’t growing in evenly and it makes him look so cutely childish. I wish I now could see more of Melvin and the other old friends.
Last night I had a beautiful dream about Rachel. In it, she called me and said she wanted to apologize, that she would come over to my house. We met Leon coming off a plane at the airport and went home together. Too bad it was only a dream.
But reality is lovely, too.
Friday, April 18, 1975
4 PM. A light drizzle has just begun to fall, but Jonny and his friends have not been deterred from playing ball outside, beneath my window. I’ve just taken a shower and I feel clean. Mom has this scented talc that smells like roses, a smell I love.
This has been a wonderful week, filled with good things. Fridays are the nicest, though, in some way: I get to do anything I want, all day.
Ronna phoned last night, and it was good to talk to her and to hear her voice. If I were a more positive fellow, I could say with certainty I still love her very, very much.
I had called her Sunday to wish her a happy birthday (she couldn’t talk because the family party was in progress and she was all choked up after receiving a beautiful set of earrings from her sister) and then again on Tuesday, when she was out.
Ronna said last evening that she’d just been on the phone for hours – first with Henry (who mentioned that I too had been relaxing on the quadrangle, leading Ronna to say that she was envious of us) and then Susan, and then she had to phone her cousin to see about going tonight to the free movie at Brooklyn College.
Ronna asked if she made a fool of herself last week. I said, “You mean when we were playing Scrabble and you didn’t know what chimera meant?”
“No,” Ronna said, laughing, “and anyway, Susan says that’s not an English word.”
I disputed this and then asked: “Do you mean about coming back to the car?”
“Oh, no, Ronna – that was one of the nicest things I that can remember.”
“I sort of thought so, too,” she said, “but I didn’t know how you felt.”
We talked about our jobs and I told her about my trip to the Bruce Museum on Tuesday – and now I must admit to myself that while I stood outside the place, on that hill overlooking downtown Greenwich, I was wishing that Ronna had been there to share it with me.
She asked, “Can I see you next weekend?” and I responded affirmatively; I’d been so afraid to ask her out. She said she’s pretty busy this weekend, so we’ll make it next Saturday or Sunday.
When I came home last night, Jonny had left me a message that Alice had called, so I tried to phone her all evening but the line was busy. I had this feeling that something was wrong, so I persisted and finally reached her at about midnight.
She had been very depressed about something, Alice said, but she talked it over with a friend from her old school. Alice said she was going to bed and would call me in the morning.
I said I’d pick her up tonight and we could talk over dinner, and she suggested that afterwards we could see the free movie at school. (I’d feel funny about seeing Ronna there – yet I want to see her, to touch her). I wondered why Alice wasn’t seeing Andreas this weekend, and she told me he’s in Germany – on business, I suppose.
I got my check from LIU today for half the semester, or the part of it since I took over the class. The check – for $230.19, pretty good – more than compounds the satisfaction I get from the job itself.
At Kings Plaza, I started a savings account at the Dime with it. As they say, it’s good to have money in the bank again.
This morning I called Elihu, who’s been busy with four papers (all on the Anti-Masonic movement: “When you have four papers to do, you maximize your research”) and had a bad cold.
We keep our discussions to very impersonal subjects. I would never think of bringing up Allan’s name, or Jerry and Shelli, and Elihu wouldn’t discuss them with me, either. He did mention that Ellen is in Vermont now, looking for a place where she and Wade can settle after the marriage.
The conversation dragged on for a while and ended after we ran out of neutral topics. I feel uncomfortable about Elihu possibly reporting back to his father, my department chairman, about my teaching.
Josh also phoned today, and I was pleased he called and told him so. I’d been afraid that Josh was annoyed with me because of the way I’ve been doing in class; Spielberg likes my stuff and hates Josh’s. But apparently Josh is too big to take an envious attitude, nor is there any reason for him to be jealous of me.
(I just remembered a dream I had last night, about selling two stories and getting the acceptances in the mail – from my unconscious to God’s reality.)
Last evening Josh and Fat Ronnie went to Columbia to see Allen Ginsberg, but it was so crowded that they couldn’t get in. Josh desperately needed a bathroom, so he went to Allan’s apartment on 120th.
Allan was in class when he showed up, but Evan was there, half-dressed, with a guy in a bathrobe who looked like the fencer from the party.
Fat Ronnie wanted to get out of there to give his brother some privacy. But Josh insisted that Evan fix him a bicarbonate of soda, saying, “Every time I come here, Allan isn’t here. What is he, hiding in the closet?”
Evan smiled and said, “I could take that two ways, you know,” and then Josh and Fat Ronnie left Evan and the bathrobe guy to their fried chicken and watermelon.
The final phone call I got today came from Gary, who is still upset over Kay’s – I don’t know what to call it – her resistance, I guess.
On the phone, Gary confided that he’d been planning an engagement to coincide with her graduation from Queens College this June. He feels she “has a lot of growing up to do” because of her hesitations.
But I look her upon Kay’s searching as a positive thing; she seems to have seen so little of life. Naturally I can’t tell Gary that I view the whole thing is a blessing in disguise; neither can I question why he would want to marry a woman whom he admits is “immature.” (I don’t believe in “maturity” anyway.)
I washed the car and picked up Marc at the Kings Highway station. He had to lug around this radio he’s making for his class at Technical Careers Institute. Marc got so embarrassed when I decided to celebrate the bicentennial of Paul Revere’s ride by opening the car window and shouting, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
“You have to be stoned for that sort of thing,” Marc said.
I don’t know; perhaps I’m nuts, but I feel very uninhibited with strangers and like doing absurd things and observing people’s reactions. It’s so great to go out in a sweatshirt, blue jeans and sneakers and feel a cool breeze, not a cold and blustery wind.
I’m having a lot of trouble with the exercises on the top of Chart 4 of the RCAF plan; I just can’t manage forty pushups in a minute. But I’m so near to goal that I want to keep pushing, although I have to make myself do the exercises every day.
I’ve been trying to read The Wings of the Dove, if for no other reason than because I feel I’ve been getting intellectually flabby.
About this time every year, I resolve to read all those books that I’ve always imagined I should read. But I’ve always had great difficulty with James; my mind wanders through those meandering sentences of his.
Cambodia has fallen to the Communists after the five-year war. The Khmer Rouge were greeted by cheering crowds in Phnom Penh.
11:30 PM. Alice and I were together for nearly seven hours today, and I feel as though I’ve seen her more closely than I ever had before.
She’s in a real quandary about school; she hates teaching, there are monsters in her sixth grade class, the parents are all against her, and she dreads going to P.S. 197 every day of the week.
Alice wants to write, and teaching interferes with that. The $60 a day doesn’t make up for the torture she feels she’s going through. She would like to quit, but if she quits her first teaching job, how will that look on her record?
Alice has always had what Renee once described as “a low shit tolerance” and she, like me, has run away from things before.
At 6 PM Alice and I went out for dinner at this Mandarin restaurant on Flatlands Avenue where the food was terrible. She and I seemed to have different ideas of what kind of an evening it was going to be: I was dressed like a slob and she was sort of done up.
Also, I’m not used to spending as much money on dinner as Alice is; at first she wanted to go someplace like Reno Sweeney’s, but I informed her I had only six dollars. She was desperate to pick up a guy, and when we went to SUBO for the movie, she kept looking men over.
She talks about flirtations she has with a gym teacher at her school and various others: suggestive repartee and writing notes to each other. To me, it all sounds so junior-high-schoolish and desperate.
Alice distrusts psychology and would never let herself open up to therapy or new ideas. She reads Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale and seems to believe that if someone is just positive or pushy enough, they’ll make it, and that’s the way she is about her writing.
We sat in my car near SUBO for an hour, talking about her teaching. I can understand that the pain she’s going through over it is very, very real – but I feel powerless to help her besides just listening to her troubles.
We saw The Way We Were at SUBO, and I’m glad I didn’t see Ronna there; after watching Streisand and Redford in front of the Plaza at the end of the film, it would have been sort of weird to see Ronna. (Would she have smoothed my hair?)
Outside SUBO, Alice and I met Morty, disappointed because he was waiting for a girl who never showed up.
But a girl in one of Morty’s classes came by. She was waiting for her parents to pick her up, and when they came, it turned out that her sister, who was sitting in the family car, is one of Alice’s students and waved to her wildly. (She is one of the nicer students, it seems; earlier, while driving to BC, we spotted two of the boys in her class and Alice really freaked out.)
Morty doesn’t wear a yarmulke anymore, and he was out on a Friday night. We had a few laughs with him, and then he went to sleep at Melvin’s place while Alice and I went to the Floridian for a bite to eat; then I drove her home, and now I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.
Monday, April 21, 1975
3 PM. I should have stayed in bed this morning, as my dreams were deliciously pleasant. But the mailman brought two of my self-addressed stamped envelopes back to me, containing stories rejected by the Georgia Review and Fiction Magazine.
There wasn’t any rejection notice in one, and just a mimeographed form in the other. I felt so despondent and discouraged.
Sometimes – last night, for instance – I feel sure I am a brilliant writer who will one day be held in esteem. I have this great well of creativity to dip into, and such good ideas and the discipline to carry them through.
But then today rolls around and it seems as if no one at these magazines appreciates my talent. Is there any talent there? Yes, I’m practically sure of it. Was selling the story to New Writers just a fluke? I hope not.
I think what I’ll do from now on is just submit one story to one magazine at a time. That way (ha, ha) I won’t ever have to worry about two magazines accepting the same story. I felt shitty after the mailman came and just wanted to forget about writing and go out for a while.
I am in my element in the world of books, literary theory and criticism and such. But is that enough to base a life on? Graham Greene said that writers only lead “a sort of life” because they spend so many hours at the typewriter with imaginary characters and events.
Luckily, I found Mason walking up Avenue H, from his student-teaching at South Shore to the college, and I gave him a lift. I went to xerox a page of my students’ compositions I had typed up, for use in my class tomorrow evening.
I have more free time now, and I don’t have to write any more this term, as Spielberg will not let me hand in anything else to the Fiction Workshop – which is understandable, as the others haven’t yet handed in their required three stories and the term will be over in a month.
In Comp Lit, I just have to take a final and read the books. So I don’t have much to do but prepare my lessons for LIU. And I want to hang out with friends for a while, just the way I used to when I was an undergraduate – so I did just that today.
Mason and I stood on the quadrangle, listening to the playing of a rock band, which was there courtesy of student government. They were loud but not all that bad; the lead singer was pretty energetic and seemed to think he was Janis Joplin.
Then Mason and I went to meet Libby at SUBO; she had also just finished her student-teaching. We had our lunch outside of Whitehead, by the rock garden. I always enjoy being with Libby and Mason.
Afterwards we went to visit Fred, Melvin’s roommate, whom I’d just learned about last Friday from Morty. Actually, it turned out that I’ve known Fred by sight and he knew me by name. It was like old times for me, hanging out at a friend’s house, talking about school and music and books.
Fred said that Melvin and Leroy went upstate with two girls a few days ago and they still haven’t come back. Fred is a very nice guy, and we all sat around talking while Libby made a cube for her sixth-grade students.
Fred’s in the Open Road Club, and this Friday they’re having a square dance thing. I think I’d prefer to go to the Dance Department’s recital, though, as they’re performing a new work with music by Mike’s brother Adam, and Carl Karpoff will be in it.
Fred was supposed to go climbing up in New Paltz today with Alan Karpoff, but neither of them was able to get up at 6 AM. Mason told us he’s probably going to the Fresh Air Fund camp again this summer, and that made me wonder what I should do.
I’d like to make some real money this summer, although I don’t relish the idea of a 9-to-5 job in a Manhattan office. I wonder if there even are any jobs like that to be had in this economy. Still, I can’t just do nothing.
I think I could get into traveling for the first time, but I don’t have any money. I better just concentrate right now on getting through the next five weeks.
I called Ronna last night but her mother said she had gone into Manhattan with her cousin and wouldn’t be back until late.
Billy came on the extension to shout that all his fish had died, so they decided to get a mouse instead. Now Billy has a dog, a mouse and a snake. Ronna’s mother said she felt that was enough pets for Billy for now.