A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, April 23, 1975
1:30 AM. I can’t sleep; my mind is whirling with ideas, thoughts, recriminations. So I figured I’d write today’s entry now, as I will probably be half-dead all day Wednesday.
It’s a restless house at this very late hour. Marc awoke a little while ago and I hear him now having trouble breathing, trying to get relief with tissues and nasal spray. His allergies have been bad recently.
The light is on in the master bedroom, too. Mom, having done all her scrubbing and shining, is now either plucking her eyebrows or reading one of her books on Jewish history and culture. I’ve just finished the first volume of Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James, which is very readable and quite interesting.
The thing that sticks in my mind most is a comment that mind-fucker Simon made yesterday while we were having pizza after class.
Simon’s so into “telling it like it is” and leveling with a person, but I see it as a form of pseudo-liberated hostility. Why is it that when someone says, “Now I’m going to tell you what I honestly think of you . . .” whatever follows is invariably negative, never a positive statement?
Simon and I are envious of another now, but it’s something brought about by him. I can see that he’s outraged because Spielberg likes my work more than his; in Baumbach’s class last term, Simon was unquestioned top dog.
(I wonder if his anger has something to do with his ill-concealed rage at his mother for “preferring” – Simon’s term – his stepbrothers to him. That’s why he left home.)
Anyway, Simon said I’m “not a serious writer.” That got me angry, especially after he said that Todd and Sharon were. I suppose the fact that my output is more than all of theirs put together doesn’t make a difference, nor does the fact that I risk rejection by sending things out constantly while Simon is still afraid to chance it.
He says he knew he “was going to be a writer” last year, but I’ve known it since I was ten or eleven years old. Plainly, he was trying to hurt me – he even added something about Baumbach telling him that I wasn’t very talented – in the guise of “complete honesty.”
I’ve changed some of my ideas about that; maybe Simon’s therapy hasn’t reached the point where he can differentiate between hostility and truth.
Anyway, enough about that. Susan Schaeffer liked “Alice Keppel” a lot, the other stories less so. She said I should send it out and not worry about rejection notices; she’s gotten as many as 300 a year. She let Prof. Mayer read the story and he thought it was good.
Susan seems to be really interested in me as a writer; usually, she’s really tight with just the Poetry people. And she doesn’t seem spoiled by her success and didn’t seem perturbed about not winning the National Book Award, but of course she’s had a week to regain composure – although I doubt that she needed to.
The hour tutorial went so fast; it’s a pity we have only more tutorial left, for she’s taking a leave of absence next year.
In the Workshop, we did one of Denis’ less well-written stories. Afterwards, Denis said how we base our critiques of one another’s stories on personality and that some people won’t attack other people’s work – which led to Simon’s whole rap in the pizzeria. The only person in the class I really dislike is Simon.
My class at LIU went fairly well. We had a nice discussion on some of the paragraphs people wrote and afterwards I talked with a few students. Most of them are surprisingly dedicated to getting an education.
I realize that I’m a whole different person in front of that desk now: Mr. Grayson the English teacher is gaining confidence and poise. Surely teaching English 11EKL at LIU is one of the best experiences of my life.
I called Ronna to make arrangements for seeing one another this weekend, and she said I’ve definitely changed. The other day Mason said I even walk differently now, “as though you’re important.”
Poor Ronna is unhappy with her job. But the Times called her, saying they liked a press release she wrote so much that they want to do an article on the book she was publicizing. I’m afraid I didn’t let Ronna talk too much. It seems that I’m an inexhaustible stream of words lately.
Thursday, April 24, 1975
1 PM. I’ve just come back from Rockaway. It was dark and cool on the boardwalk, and the salt air was, as always, intoxicating. The Army Corps of Engineers is pumping sand onto the beach from the bay near my grandparents’ houses; it’s good that there will be a beach this summer.
But I like the beach best on days like today when I feel alone, when there’s just a few elderly people and dog walkers around. It started raining as I drove home; we’ve been having thunderstorms lately. I feel at peace.
Yesterday I got my hair cut at Telepathy, always a special treat and a little luxury. Talking with Joe is pleasure, as I feel that he really cares.
I was driving up East 56th Street at 4:30 PM or so when I saw Hal riding his bicycle up Avenue K. I honked and he stopped. When I got out of the car, he gave me one of those bone-crushing handshakes. It’s good to know Hal’s still the same; I’d forgotten how much I missed seeing him.
He had a law book in his bike basket. He’s finishing up his second year at Brooklyn Law School, which he doesn’t enjoy but which he has to go through to become a lawyer. Hal still dresses in sweatshirt, T-shirt, torn denim and ripped sneakers, and I’m glad he hasn’t sacrificed his own style to convention.
He asked how Ronna was, and I told him, and I talked about my teaching and writing. Hal still writes his poetry.
Then he said, “We’re living in my parents’ old house now that they’ve moved to Canarsie.”
“Who are you living with?” I asked, not sure if he was still with Ivy.
“With my wife,” Hal said.
I was surprised and said, “The same one?” and he laughed. I didn’t know he and Ivy had gotten married and didn’t want to let him know that because it seemed as if I was supposed to know it.
I took Hal’s number. He said Ronna and I should come over to have dinner with Ivy and him sometime.
We shook hands again and parted. At the Junction I bought a birthday card for Teresa and then walked over to LaGuardia and wrote her a letter at what used to be the Grapevine table.
Alex walked by and wondered aloud if I was not up to my usual know-it-all self; he expected me to know about Rose’s engagement before he did. Eddie passed by and gave me a Rockefeller “Hiya, fella” wave and grin – but after all, he is Student Government president now.
Also passing by, Dean Smith reminded me about the Alumni Board of Directors meeting coming up in the evening; I had completely forgotten about it.
I wrote to Teresa about myself and I included the latest gossip. I really hope Teresa is happy in California. Alex said that Helen’s coming back from the Coast in June, but only for a visit; I owe her a letter too.
I arrived in SUBO at 8 PM as the Executive Board was just getting out of their dinner meeting; I called to Ivan’s brother-in-law Dave, who looks well, and also said hello to Ben Baranoff and the other board members.
I’m the only male at these meetings who doesn’t wear a tie and jacket – but I don’t feel uncomfortable because I’m me.
The meeting began with Dean Dunn (who’s always been friendly to me although he really doesn’t know me) speaking about the BC admissions policy. The board members are upset because they think standards are falling.
Then Hilary Gold discussed last week’s takeover of the Registrar’s office by Puerto Rican students and faculty demanding the ouster of Kneller’s hand-picked chairwoman of Puerto Rican Studies. (Good for them for not giving up after what happened last fall.)
Hilary reported that there was an all-night negotiating session with Justice Department observers, Hilary, Bob Gross, Eddie, et al., and finally a compromise was reached and the offices were vacated.
At the meeting I sat next to Dean Donald Hume, the BC Alumni historian. These meetings are a great place to pick up material for fiction.
Ira Harkavy shocked me by announcing “the death of our fellow Board member, Lorraine Nussbaum, today.” I had wondered why neither Maddy nor her mother was there.
Elaine Taibi told me that Mrs. Nussbaum had cancer. I feel so bad for Maddy and her brother, both of whose parents are now dead. When I got home from the meeting, I called Ronna to tell her, but her sister said that she was out on a date.
I am ashamed to say I am so petty as to be angry and jealous. Perhaps Ronna and I can go over to Mrs. Nussbaum’s mother’s house, where the family is sitting shiva.
At midnight I finally decided to write Rachel. I wanted to resolve things, if only on my part. I need to get ready for school now.
Friday, April 25, 1975
3 PM on a gloomy, muggy afternoon. I’m feeling depressed over the events of yesterday and today. After yesterday’s Fiction Workshop, Denis drove me and Josh back to Josh’s house, where I had parked my car.
It was 6 PM and on the car radio I heard about a subway fire that resulted in the Transit Authority stopping all IRT service from Atlantic Avenue to Flatbush and New Lots. Until I passed Eastern Parkway, though, it didn’t occur to me how it would affect things.
There was a monumental traffic jam, with literally hundreds, maybe a thousand people, standing at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. I stood in the same spot for fifteen minutes; the rain wasn’t helping, either.
After a rushed dinner at Junior’s, I got to my classroom at 7:30 PM, only to find that just three people had showed up. Several more straggled in and we decided what to do. Some people wanted to hold class, but of course most of them wanted to go home.
I had planned a lesson leading to an assignment – a paragraph of classification – and I figured I’d only have to give it again anyway for the other half of the class.
My indecisiveness was evident as we kept wavering; I suppose I should have acted strong and made a decision. Anyway, finally we all went home, and it appeared that other classes were doing the same thing.
I figured that some people would have trouble getting home, and I guess I did the right thing. But I felt really disappointed about not getting to teach the lesson I’d prepared, and I felt lousy about my “weakness” and indecision.
But I still think it’s better for a teacher not to be a dictator. The students wanted to put me in the role of a leader, and when I refused to accept sole responsibility, there was confusion.
Yet I still don’t believe in making all the decisions for the class and think nondirective teaching is valuable. Or is that all a cop-out?
I didn’t sleep well knowing I’d have to get up early today for Lorraine Nussbaum’s funeral; I’m used to snoozing till at least 10 AM now. I put on a tie and jacket and started driving vaguely in the direction of the chapel in Borough Park.
At a stop light, I noticed the car next to me had Craig driving and Ronna sitting next to him. I should have called Ronna again to make sure she’d heard the news, but I guess I’d been trying to “punish” her for being out on a date Wednesday night when she “should” have been home.
My petty jealousy makes me ashamed. (Was that why I finally wrote Rachel the other night? I hope not. I just wanted to clear up the hurt and confusion I was feeling toward Rachel.)
Craig and Ronna said they were going to pick up Linda, but I got lost in Borough Park and the three of them arrived at the chapel before me.
Maddy looked as though she were taking it well; she’s gotten thinner and looked composed. I extended my sympathies to her brother Jay and his wife, a pretty girl, and his mother-in-law.
Karen came with her sister and mother, and Artie and other friends of Jay were there, and Elaine Taibi, and Maddy’s friends Toby and Joyce. Maddy’s grandmother was very upset and crying.
The services were brief, as is the style today. Mrs. Nussbaum was a very nice woman. It was just a few months ago that she was telling me at a Board meeting how she was going for her Ph.D. She must have been very ill then, but she didn’t give the appearance of it.
I sat next to Linda during the services. Ronna and Craig were on the other side, and it felt strange to see Ronna there across the aisle, looking very mature in her dress, her hands clasped.
She was with other people and I had come by myself – and I’m seeing her tonight. Why I did I feel almost guilty when I told her I’d pick her up at work at 5:30 PM? It felt as though we were having an illicit affair. I kissed Maddy as they went off to the cemetery and said goodbye to the others.
After changing clothes, I went over to Josh’s and we had lunch at the Pub. I’m so glad Josh and I are still friends; somehow I feel Simon will try to wreck our friendship, but I’m not going to let that happen. Josh went to see Prof. Goodman and I came home to rest.
Saturday, April 26, 1975
9 PM. I’ve just finished a book, Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, which Simon lent me. I suppose I’ve been too hard on Simon, although he’s capable of great cruelty. Yet I also must face my own jealousy relative to Simon – and also the difference in the way we perceive what we write.
Anyway, I’m grateful to Simon for the book. Borges is fantastic, opening me up to so many new possibilities. Reading him spurs my imagination.
I’ve just come back from Rockaway, where I went over this evening to visit Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat. When I arrived, Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb were visiting, so I got to see all four grandparents in one shot.
The Sarretts didn’t stay long since they went home to have dinner. Grandma Sylvia fixed me a cold platter for supper. She showed me a three-inch-long nail or post that the doctor took out of her elbow. The pain has somewhat lessened since its removal.
Uncle Monty has been in the hospital for two weeks. He was coughing up blood, they took tests and discovered a spot on his lung; they’re operating on Monday. Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat are quite worried.
Uncle Harry came to visit and didn’t stop alluding to his wealth, talking about his new Cadillac Coupe de Ville and the restaurants he goes to. He showed off the new blue suede jacket he got for a steal at $50 (it was like a dungaree jacket and is much too young for him). I left there an hour ago.
Mom and Dad are away for the weekend, staying at Connie and Annette’s house in Sag Harbor. Marc and his friends are downstairs, and Jonathan is watching the Marx Brothers in his room.
It was raining heavily all evening yesterday, beginning when I picked up Ronna at work. She asked if we could eat in Brooklyn because she wasn’t hungry right away and her stomach was upset by a Szechuan lunch she and Gwen went out for.
The hour-long rush hour drive wasn’t so bad with Ronna for company. She explained something the rabbi said at the funeral, about not going by the rabbi’s manual and doing something illegal: marrying the same couple twice. Mrs. Nussbaum was very ill in the hospital and Jay was married there in her room; that ceremony was the legal one and the other one was for all the family and friends.
Mrs. Nussbaum, Ronna said, knew she was dying, as what had been breast cancer spread through her body, but she didn’t let anyone outside the family know; she joked to Maddy about not wanting certain people at the funeral. One feels that there was great courage in the woman and that she died in peace.
Ronna and I went to Jahn’s for dinner and then to BC to see a dance recital in Gershwin. It was very enjoyable; even though I don’t understand modern dance, I enjoy watching it.
Carl Karpoff was in two of the pieces and he was quite good. His twin Alan was there, with Davey, and Alan came over to talk to us. Alan’s in Special Ed now and likes it; he said he finally wrote to Avis in Germany and he asked me if I’d seen Leon. Alan is terribly nice; I like him more and more.
One of the dances had original music by Mike’s brother Adam, and it was very good; Adam took a bow onstage. I think it’s great that people we know are so talented.
Back at my house, after tea, Ronna and I were in my room, sitting on my bed, both attracted to each other, both afraid to act. I told her about my feelings toward her, how I never stopped liking her, how her body still turned me on.
She said she felt the same way, but she did not want things to go back to the way they were last October. “Neither do I,” I said. Ronna was really miserable then; we fought over petty things and then I wouldn’t go with her to family functions and I liked weird movies and was selfish.
But now, she says, she feels we can never be boyfriend and girlfriend again. Yet if we’re not, it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t agree with me about Buñuel or Open Marriage or anything.
We’re separate individuals now, and we don’t have to incorporate each other’s personality into our own. That doesn’t mean, we decided, that when we see each other from time to time that we can’t express our affection physically.
I love Ronna and I want her to be happy, to see other people, to develop herself (I want those things for myself). We kissed and hugged and held each other until midnight. It was good to hold a person again; it was truly great to hold Ronna again.
Sunday, April 27, 1975
It’s 7 PM on a cool yet sunny Sunday. The trees are leafy now, and it’s about time, too, since this is the last week of April and the first third of 1975 will be gone.
I slept exceedingly well last night; how often I dream of acceptance and rejection notices now. Yesterday I got a polite rejection from Jesture. But, determined, I spent my last paycheck from the library on xeroxing stories.
I’ve sent out to the “big” magazines. Susan Schaeffer said to try them first, and I guess I might as well, but I don’t have very high hopes of being accepted by Esquire, the Chicago Review, Playboy, Mademoiselle or Redbook.
Today, in the Village, I bought The Directory of Little Magazines at the Eighth Street Bookshop, and when these pieces start coming back, I’ll set my sights a little lower. Susan says the only way to get experienced is to start sending out and getting the feel of these things – but she started in poetry, which is probably more easily published than fiction.
At least, though, I’ll have a head start on people like Simon, who are afraid to send out stuff. If I’m one-tenth as pushy as Alice, I should get somewhere.
This morning I did something I used to do in college: I took myself to a noon Sunday movie in Manhattan. It was a French film called Don’t Cry with Your Mouth Full, and it was superb; I’m sure that only a few lucky people will get to see it.
It was a beautiful, lyrical study of a teenage French provincial girl coping with her impending womanhood. The lead actress, a girl of 16 or 17, was gorgeous; at least she was my type, nubile with big breasts and baby fat on her thighs and stomach. She reminded me of Ronna (and of Rachel) and I guess I loved the movie because she was so beguiling.
It’s good for me to treat myself to movies in Manhattan on Sunday; I feel like I’m doing something special. After walking out of the Paris Theatre at 2 PM, I strolled around the Plaza and the GM Building and past the horse-drawn carriages to watch the Hare Krishna people singing and dancing.
Since I quit my job at the Voice, I’ve hardly been in Manhattan and I’d forgotten how magical it can be. I drove down to the Village and walked through Washington Square Park. It’s been pretty seedy the past few years, but today it looked alive again.
There’s a new children’s playground, there are still the ever-present fiddlers and guitarists, the frisbee players, the people sitting at the fountain.
For a minute it seemed like the summer of 1969 again when I was there with Brad or Seth. For all that I’ve changed since I first reentered the world following my withdrawal into my room, at times I feel that the same raw material is there.
I know I’m not expressing myself very well. It’s just good to know that my well-being doesn’t depend solely on externals like having a job or a girlfriend or even a therapist.
As I said, I went into the Eighth Street Bookshop (Laurie wasn’t there) and then came home at about 4 PM. I spoke to Gary, who’s been depressed over an Incomplete given him by some Columbia professor. Kay gave him a framed graduation photo of herself, and he took that as a good sign. My God, it seems like they don’t communicate at all.
I later told Ronna about it, and she said that a few years ago it probably wasn’t Gary’s old girlfriend Wendy who wanted the lockets and the joint bank account with Gary, and I think she’s right. Gary is probably now clinging to Kay as he did to Wendy, and Kay wants some room to breathe, which is why she’s going to Houston.
On Friday night Ronna called Rose from my house to make plans to go shopping, and she put me on the line. I offered Rose my best wishes; she’s a nice girl.
Everyone’s getting married. Susan tells Ronna she feels Felicia’s marriage to Spencer won’t last because they fight constantly over little things, and even Felicia tells Ronna she’s going into it with the option of divorce in the back, and maybe the front, of her mind.
Linda’s marriage to Harvey is very odd. When people ask her, as they did at the funeral, “How’s Harvey?” she says “Fine” so perfunctorily that one suspects something is amiss. With all the vibrations I get from Linda, I’ve always been abashed to inquire about Harvey.
Well, at least one person we know will end up a Henry Jamesian old bachelor.
Wednesday, April 30, 1975
Agony, however painful, always ends. It was that way with my depression of yesterday. It was that way with the long, tortuous war in Vietnam, which ended yesterday.
Big Minh, the third president of South Vietnam in a week, surrendered unconditionally to the Communists, and U.S. Marines got the last of our countrymen out of Saigon. Today the Viet Cong is in complete control and Saigon has been renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Getting back to my depression, it ended without warning. I forced myself to take a drive over to the Queens Center because I could not bring myself to go to the Fiction Workshop.
In Ohrbach’s and in A&S, I looked at men’s clothes, just feeling the fabrics and looking at the beautiful shirts and pants. Most of them were beyond my means, but I did find a lovely black knit shirt reduced for clearance to $2.99 and I bought it.
Suddenly I realized that the tight mass somewhere in my gut had disappeared. I had supper at home and went to LIU, where I filled my class in on what we’d be doing for the next three weeks.
I was a bit dull last night, but just the fact of getting up in front of fifteen people, most of whom are older than me, and being a teacher was good enough for me to feel somewhat triumphant.
Libby called me when I got home. She’s going on a canoeing trip this weekend and asked if I could type up a paper for her. She offered to pay me, but that isn’t necessary – anything to feel useful.
Allan called, too. He’s been busy working on an Architecture paper and “partying” at Le Jardin and Hollywood and other places like that.
I slept poorly, anxious about teaching again tomorrow (but I have only five more classes left) and filled with sexual tension with nowhere to go. I really need to make love twice a night. All this garbage about being asexual and sublimating is just that: garbage.
I need to release myself physically more. That cropped up in a long letter I received from Professor Ebel this morning. He wrote it on Sunday, after finishing my stories.
He says he plans to give me Honors for the thesis, providing Prof. Leibowitz agrees. Henry writes that he likes my writing, “which ranges from brilliantly inventive to no lower than a high plod.” He commented on my stories separately.
He liked “Garibaldi,” which I’d deliberately put first – but the rest of the collection couldn’t match it and he never quite got over the disappointment. He liked “Reflections,” “New Haven,” and “Jethro.”
Of “The Facts” and “Roman Buildings,” he wrote, “This is inventiveness of a high order . . . what I like in YOUR writing is the underlying poignancy: sort of grin-and-bear-it detachment – with suicide-as-an-ever-present-possibility-but-what-else-is-possible-in-this-particular-zeitgeist-when-you’re-well-mannered-middle-class-and-articulate, if that’s an adequate description of what you’re doing.”
He called “Peacock Room” “ambitious and unimpeachably successful” but found “The Jet,” “Change of Pace,” “Early Warnings” and “Talking to a Stranger” weak. The last story, “Coping,” he liked almost as much as “Peacock Room,” but he did state that he suspects I stack the better pieces up front. (He’s right.)
His last paragraphs: “Maybe you could get this book published under a title like The Limits of Detachment. But the fact is that detachment does have its limits. There were points even in reading ‘The Peacock Room’ at which I found myself unable to CARE very much about people with such reduced libido, oomph, pizazz, and even when you’re in a Marx Brothers frenzy, you compensate for the danger this obviously poses to you by zipping in and out between your asterisks, not risking the possibility of sticking with one thing too long. . .
“So maybe you need an infusion of karma from somewhere or you run the serious risk of ending up like old Salinger – and at least he can console himself with his millions. I mean, holy shit, fella, this all-the-world’s-a-middle-class-Jewish-stage bit is just an updated Buchenwald of the emotions.
“There is in your writing a notable absence of physicality. No physicality, no deep feeling. That’s the way it is. So DO SOMETHING with yourself. It’s never too early to start moving on as a writer/person, and it’s always too early to stop.”