A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, May 1, 1975
3 PM on a drizzly, cool first of May. I’ve been thinking a lot about Ebel’s letter. I believe the criticism he makes is valid. The only (gay) sexual encounter in all of my stories, he states, is “significantly bowdlerized.”
But then I have to consider who is giving the criticism. Knowing Prof. Ebel from the article in the Richmond Times, I know him to be a man whose main concerns are emotional, and even more than that, physical.
At this point in my life, I don’t think I’m capable of describing sex graphically without being awkward, and that is the main reason I avoid it. Perhaps in the future, as I open myself to new experiences (and I intend to do so), this will come naturally in my writing.
Ebel’s P.S. said, “But I do admire your sophistication, which wasn’t available to me at your age, and which cost most of my peers (if they ever did achieve it) an exaggerated price.”
Yesterday I tried to call Ronna at her office, to find out if she’d be interested in having dinner, but Gwen said she was out sick. I called Ronna’s house, but she was sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb her.
Restless, I drove to the Junction, hoping to meet up with a familiar face. I found two: Mason and Stacy, who were waiting at the Rockaway bus stop. I offered them a ride home and they accepted.
I had interrupted a discussion, though. Stacy was trying to interest Mason in sharing an apartment around Ocean Avenue. (Stupidly, I wondered what it would be like if I shared an apartment with Stacy. . .)
Stacy said she had seen me at Susan Schaeffer’s lecture but it was so crowded that she couldn’t get to me to say hello. She’ll be going for her Ph.D. at the Graduate Center next fall, in their Personality program.
I was telling her about my stories, especially “The Peacock Room” (thanks to Susan Schaeffer and Henry Ebel, I have new confidence in it), and when I said it was about bisexuality, she expressed an interest in reading it, so I told her I’d drop off a copy at her office.
Mason was quiet most of the ride, and Stacy mentioned this; I hope he didn’t resent my horning in. I told him to tell Libby not to pay me any money for typing her paper, that a hug would suffice.
When I dropped Stacy off, she and Mason kissed and she told him, “Think about it.” He told me he’s going back to the Fresh Air Fund camp this summer after graduation; he can’t wait until his student teaching is over.
Driving further down Rockaway Beach Boulevard, I dropped in on Grandma Ethel’s for dinner. I should have called first, but I know she’s not resentful of having to prepare a meal for me. Grandpa Herb and I watched the last Americans being helicoptered out of Vietnam on the news.
Grandma Ethel said that on Monday she was with Grandma Sylvia, who kept calling “the place” and the hospital and finally they told her everything was okay with Uncle Monty.
Knowing it wasn’t true, Grandma Ethel still expressed the view that they’re right not to tell Grandma Sylvia the bad news about Monty’s inoperable lung cancer: “How much more can she take?”
Grandma Ethel got another bit of bad news today when her half-brother called: his aunt, Great-Grandma Bessie’s sister Etta, died of cancer today. It is ironic because last fall when Great-Grandma Bessie was so ill and I went to visit her in the hospital, I saw Etta, who looked perfectly fine. Now she is dead while Great-Grandma Bessie is okay.
Back home again last night, I finally spoke to Ronna. She developed a cold on Monday night following a shiva call that she and Craig paid on Maddy. Billy has scarlatina and perhaps he was somewhat contagious.
Ronna sounded awful, and she said she’d stay out the rest of the week. She was bored, although Henry visited her. “He’s crazy to come here,” she said, “with Billy and me so contagious.”
She didn’t mean it as a contrast with me, but we both know I wouldn’t come to a house where she and Billy were infectious. Henry, who seems so uncomplicated – a literal Boy Scout – is probably better for Ronna than I was or Ivan was.
I read her Prof. Ebel’s letter and we discussed it. She said, “Does he know you’re not physical because you went out with me for two years? Hmmm?” She’s so funny and self-deprecating.
But we had a good discussion about sexuality. Now we’re friends who also have a physical relationship. But can that work?
Up early this morning, I began typing Libby’s paper – and doing a lot of editing. I was appalled by her writing style – sentence fragments, misspellings, poor punctuation – but I wasn’t surprised, given the state of higher education today.
Teresa wrote from Palo Alto, saying she was pleased to get my card. She is Ted’s “partner (no, not in crime)” and it’s working out beautifully. Ted seems to be an understanding, loving man, and there are no day-to-day blowups.
That’s good. Teresa went through a veritable battalion of creeps. She’s becoming a California hausfrau and she’s happy, although she’d like to write or work more. Dear Teresa – I’m glad things are good for her.
Sunday, May 4, 1975
It’s a rainy afternoon. My parents are dead. Oh, they’re not physically dead, of course; they’re still their old youthful-looking selves. But they’ve quite effectively cut themselves off from the flowing rhythms of life.
My mother cleans night and day; during the week Maud is here, so she does go out at times: to shop, to pick up Marc at the train station and Jonny at school.
Like me, my brothers are too fragile to walk, just as Mom herself is; she phones for someone to pick her up at the beauty parlor two blocks from the house.
On weekends, Mom is a straightening-out machine. She complains that she has no time, but often in the middle of the night she can be seen rearranging kitchen cabinets or polishing furniture. She does not exist apart from this house, apart from her family.
Perhaps one day, if my father dies (really dies) before her and if finally her children can break free of her, she may be alone in this house. What will she do then, I wonder? She lets no one do things for themselves. “That’s not how you do it,” she’ll say, and she will show you the right way.
This morning she took away my orange juice before I had finished with it – such is her zest in clearing the table. She has made a living-room into a looking-room, a room in which Galsworthy’s stiffest Forsytes might feel uncomfortable.
My mother has created a museum here, a monument to her Teutonic rigidity (although, curiously, she has an obsession with all things Jewish – not that she believes in the religion, mind you, but she’s all out for Israel and anything faintly Semitic).
I’ve got to get out of here; I realize that now, after endless years of psychotherapy, I still do not see what is as plain as my hand: it’s my parents’ emotional constipation which has made me into a being barely in touch with life.
At least I could discover intellectual stimulation for myself. My room is like a library-mausoleum. I can read and read and they will think I’m being “quiet” and “constructive.” And I am, but I’m also being rebellious and wicked.
Thank God for the nausea I suffered in high school; it meant that I wasn’t dead, that there was a spark of life within me. If only I’d known it then, I could have put it to use and would not have had to make myself an agoraphobic prisoner of my house.
Of my father, what can I say? He’s afraid of the truth, so he behaves like an ostrich, and he taught me to do the same. From the lump on the side of his face to not making preparations in his business, he has always been the same: never making contact with reality unless it captured him first.
Now the IRS is auditing him, and he’s nervous. In the morning, I hear his hacking cough from smoking; once he quit, but then he went back. He follows sports and bets on games with some bookie in Monticello. He goes to movies, sometimes without my mother, because she doesn’t enjoy them.
Together for 25 years, they mesh perfectly . . . and they created three male human beings, of which I am the first. There is the odor of death in this house, and I’ve got to leave. The risks, the fright: they can’t be worse than this.
It’s a wonder that I’m able to create and dream and feel at all. Last night I had a dream in which I wanted to strangle my parents; in another dream, I was leading an adult life with a family in a flooded city, sort of Venice on the Lower East Side. That’s what life can be like, I know it.
Five years ago was Kent State. How much and how little I’ve changed since then. Last night I read José Donoso’s Hell Has No Limits, which was simply superb. I finished typing up Libby’s paper and then delivered it to her house in Park Slope, giving it to her brother.
After studying in the college library, as I was driving back home, I spotted Josh walking in a yellow slicker in the rain, so I drove him over to a friend’s house.
Alice called while I was gone, but she’s not home now. I wonder how her “date” with Jonathan Schwartz went last night; I couldn’t tell a thing by listening to him on the radio.
Monday, May 5, 1975
4 PM. It’s dark outside, but at least it’s not pouring, like yesterday. I guess I sounded harsh and cruel, those things I said about my parents yesterday. I do love them – very much. And that is why I want them to be better, to be freer, to be happier.
I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I’m starting to cry. I want someone to hold onto: Ronna, anybody.
I’ve just finished reading a truly magnificent novel, Heartbreak Tango, by an Argentine, Manuel Puig. It affected me as no book has in a long time. It was a comedy but beautifully sad.
I had so many dreams last night. It think this is one of them:
I was watching an old TV show, Leave It to Beaver, and a friend of mine was on TV with Orson Welles. The phone rang, and it was Simon, but he said, “Denis?” I told him no, I was Richard and then I noticed that it was 6 PM and I was late for Comp Lit.
I was at the college soon after that, and there the actress Nancy Walker was a secretary in the Art Department, and I tried to avoid Dean Smith. I collected money for working in Hilary Gold’s office on Tuesday from 11 AM to noon, although I never really did work at that time.
Then I entered Hilary’s office and this woman, a soap opera character, was saying goodbye to a crowd of people; she was going away to prison for a crime she committed. As I filed past her and took her hand, she said, “Dear Henry, I’ll miss you.” She had mistaken me for Henry!
Back at my apartment, I took off my sport jacket and loosened my tie. Ronna was cooking spaghetti for dinner, and Henry was sitting at the table, waiting to be served. Craig also was there, and we shook hands, but there was another guy there whom I didn’t recognize.
He said he was Stuie Taubman, the kid who used to head the Jewish Student Union, but he looked nothing like Stuie. I figured, it’s all a soap opera on which an actor had been replaced. Then I woke up.
In other dreams I was Greek or with Jay Hershenson at some convention in a San Juan hotel or depressed on a rainy day like yesterday. I woke up feeling refreshed but empty, and there’s been a growing anticipation in me all day.
I got a very kind rejection of “Coping” from Redbook today; the editor said people would rather not be reminded of Kent State anymore.
I don’t know what this malaise is about. I don’t understand why I feel so odd. Perhaps I’m anxious about teaching, but I have only four classes left. Maybe I feel guilty about grading students because I don’t feel worthy of judging anyone or anything.
I called Ronna yesterday, but we didn’t seem to be making connections. I don’t seem to be making any connections these days. My acne is flaring up. I wish it was warm, like Saturday, again, and I could sit in the sun. My sinuses hurt.
I went into Manhattan by subway this morning, to catch the noon showing of Shampoo at the Coronet. Warren Beatty played a womanizing hairdresser stud; I’d like to be like that just once. Even though he’s unhappy at the end of the film, I’d like to be that free with women.
Also, I find myself really attracted to Warren Beatty. No, I’m not crazy writing like this. For once, I’m not guarding myself. This is me, and yesterday was me, and I’m always me.
I never could understand it when people say, “I’m not myself today.” I’m always myself: when I’m petty and when I’m generous; when I’m brave and when I’m a coward; when I think I’m ugly and when I think I’m beautiful; when I’m teaching a class or masturbating; when I’m nauseated or when I’m writing away like this.
It was nice to go into Manhattan for a movie during the week, but I almost felt guilty. I want to do something crazy. I want to be physical. Ebel’s letter has been on my mind so much.
For once, someone who judges me has said it’s all right – no, it’s more than all right, it’s good – for me to be physical. And strangely enough, I feel that when I’ve worked this all out, I’ll be happier. I feel anxious now – on the train coming home, I nearly had an anxiety attack – but I feel that something good is close at hand.
11 PM. This evening turned out to be rather pleasant. After a quick bite to eat at Kosher King, I went to Comp Lit, which I greatly enjoyed. I’m very glad that I took the course because it exposed me to new forms of writing; I’ve become especially interested in contemporary Latin American writing.
A girl in the class came up to me and told me how thin I’d gotten since the beginning of the term. Even if it isn’t true, it still made me feel great.
I spent the evening on the telephone with three women. First, Libby called to thank me for correcting and typing her term paper. She described the canoeing trip along the Delaware. Saturday was warm and sunny and nice; back at the camp that night she made Mason eggplant parmigiana and they smoked.
But it started raining (as it did here) and Sunday was a horror. They got soaked as they paddled through the rain; Libby was up front and the rapids kept drenching her while Mason paddled furiously just to stay in one place.
It got to the point, Libby said, where she didn’t care if the canoe turned over. But they got back to the city finally late Sunday night; Mason slept over and neither of them went to teach in the morning.
My next caller was Alice, to tell me of her big night – which turned out to be, as I had anticipated, a dud. It was like a boring first date, and she and Jonathan Schwartz really had nothing to say to one another.
She got to his studio at 9 PM, and he showed her around, but his phone kept ringing; once a woman called and he asked Alice to leave because it was personal and he didn’t call her back in until fifteen minutes later.
Jonathan made cracks about her living with her mother in Brooklyn (which to him seemed like Hell); he asked about Andreas and they discussed writing.
He seemed to have no sense of humor and he sounded as if he was trying to impress Alice, which obviously wasn’t necessary. He was dressed sloppily, and instead of taking Alice out for a drink, he just asked, “Where can I drop you off?” when they got in his car.
At the end, they shook hands and he said, “Keep in touch” without meaning it. Alice said she looked good but was feeling quiet and not bombastic.
She was depressed, of course, but Andreas told her it’s good that she went and discovered that her idol wasn’t what she’d thought he was. Alice had built it up so much, Jonathan Schwartz couldn’t have been as great as she imagined, and she understands that now.
Then Stacy called and we ended up talking for an hour. She thought “The Peacock Room” was “great” and “touching” and it made her feel good about me, “a sensitive young artist attuned to himself.”
Of course she recognized the characters as similar to Ivan and Vicky, and she mentioned seeing Vicky on the Rockaway bus that morning (“She’s more mature I am”). I think Stacy feels guilty about what she described as a “run-in” with Ivan.
Stacy said that Ivan started calling her and he tried a seduction scene in her bedroom but she said she wasn’t interested. (This was in contrast to Ivan telling Ronna, “Stacy’s after my body again.” Which truth do you believe?)
Stacy wants a monogamous relationship, which sort of surprised me. She said Ivan is a good person, but he’s young and has always been pushed into doing older things: “He needs a strong-willed woman who’ll fuck him and then leave him.”
She’s sort of angry about her role as an agent to solidify the relationship between Ivan and Vicky. Life is a soap opera, certainly. Will I never get away from Ivan? He’s become sort of an alter ego, a bête noir.
Anyway, then Stacy and I cleared up our own relationship, which was difficult. We were pretty honest and she began talking frankly about her relationship with that woman.
Apparently Phyllis had told Stacy that I talked about her nastily – but Phyllis viewed Stacy as a threat to her relationship with Timmy and that may account for it.
Stacy said that she did enjoy my company when we were going out, and I told her that I always liked her. After all the difficulty, perhaps Stacy and I can be friends. And that’s how we should keep it, I believe.
Friday, May 9, 1975
9 PM. Sunburn feels so good. I sat out for two hours this afternoon, and now the front of my body is this glowing red color. It feels hot, and I don’t mind it all.
I guess I’ll always be a narcissist, and I’ll always like getting tan because I know I look better that way. (Of course when I’m 50 and wrinkled like Grandma Ethel, I probably won’t think so.)
If I don’t have a lean and muscular physique, if I don’t have a classically beautiful face, if I do have a paunch and no chin and a head shaped like a balloon – well, at least I tan nicely.
I just came back from Macy’s on Flatbush Avenue, where I bought a silver choker-thing on a chain. I wanted to pamper myself. I guess it was Ebel’s letter that prompted me to try to become sensuous. Ha! I’ll never get there and I know it.
But you can’t always tell. They say Hugh Hefner was a virgin until 23, and I’m certainly ahead of him.
Last night I called Gary, who’s leaving for Europe on Sunday. He’s been running around, clearing up a lot of last-minute things at Columbia, doing the necessary shopping and making other arrangements.
I told Gary I’d come to the airport to see him off if I can make it. Sunday is Mother’s Day, so of course I have to be with the family and visit my grandmothers.
Today I got a letter from Avis, who writes that she wishes some people from America could visit her. She mentioned that Bremen isn’t all that far from Amsterdam, and I said I’d give Gary her address just in case, although I doubt he’ll get to Germany.
Avis, who wrote the letter on Tuesday, said she’ll probably call her sister tomorrow, when Ellen and Wade are getting married at the UN Chapel. Avis feels somewhat guilty about not being there, but the expense of the jet fare was just too much.
Avis and Helmut are planning a party next week to celebrate the end of Helmut’s conscientious-objector work. He’ll then play what Avis calls the “applying to the University game.”
They’re going to leave Germany in mid-July when Avis’s babysitting job ends (she lost out on a fantastic job at a book bindery and was depressed about it) and go to Greece. She asks if I could meet them there.
I might be able to handle traveling to Europe now, but I don’t have the money. Avis said now that it is spring, she misses the long afternoon talks we had on the steps of LaGuardia and the lunches at Campus Corner.
Afternoons she mostly heads to visit her friend Rose and they take long walks or bike rides. They’ve been saving some money and have been helping Helmut’s cousin Ursula move into a new place.
Avis said that “something is changed inside of me; I’ve calmed down a bit,” and she quoted something apropos from Colette. She still pulls her hair nervously, but she’s not ridden with insomnia and her blood is flowing evenly.
She closes: “I am fine, Helmut is fine, we are getting by, we are still in love, and we both send a little bit of that to you. You know I miss you very much and I love you more than just a little bit.”
Dear, dear Avis – how much I care for her. I’m glad the way things worked out for her, although once in a great while I regret what might have been.
This morning I went to Stacy’s office to pick up “The Peacock Room.” She had to get the manuscript in another room, and while I waited, Aaron nodded and eyed me suspiciously. Stacy came back and said, “It was great.” I said thank you and that I’d be in touch with her, and we left it at that.
I didn’t want to interrupt her work. I want to build a positive relationship with Stacy, but I want to proceed slowly. I guess I’ll never be an incautious person like Alice or Libby. But I can’t really make myself into something that is not me.
Sunday, May 11, 1975
5 PM. I’ve got to start writing again and stop lying in the sun. (Every time I think of Simon’s 29-page “novel,” I want to break something.) I’ve been so lazy and unproductive lately. But I have been thinking about Baumbach’s and Colchie’s views of fiction.
I guess we have to do something different from what was going on before. In one of Borges’ ficciones, he makes the point of the absurdity of writing a traditional novel in the 20th century, and I can see the point.
Who reads anymore, anyway? Besides the best-sellers, that is? The new (or, by now, not so new) electronic media have made us writers into near-irrelevancies.
I’ve got to get into McLuhan again, but I do agree with what I learned in high school: that the medium is the message, that the text is more important than the content – yet I persist in trying my hand at realistic stories, and I enjoy them.
I see my feelings toward Ivan as more than just jealousy, or our interrelationships: Ivan is an electronics and computer wizard, and in the end it will be a technocrat like Ivan who will destroy me and my kind (and yes, I do presume to be an artist).
Oh, well – enough of that. I’m deliriously happy after last night; it was a totally beautiful experience, a sort of gentle echo of the past.
Ronna wasn’t home yet when I arrived at her house at 7 PM. Earlier I had called and joked that if she didn’t come home, I would take her mother out instead, so Mrs. C greeted me by saying, “I’ll be ready in a minute, Richie.”
Ronna phoned and said she was on her way from the station, that she’d been in the Village with Susan and Felicia. I sat down at the dinner table where the rest of Ronna’s family was having their meal.
Billy grabbed me by the hand and took me to his room (Ronna’s old room) to show me his three white mice and his snake with two of its skins already shed.
When she arrived, Ronna looked terrific in a pink top and silk scarf. We didn’t feel like seeing any of the neighborhood movies, so we decided to take an aimless ride, stopping off to buy some tampons Ronna needed.
We drove around Flushing and up Main Street, talking of this and that. She’s seeing Susan off on Wednesday; on Tuesday she’s finally going to BC to ask teachers for grad school recommendations; and next weekend she’s going to Washington with Gwen and a few other Filipina girls.
Henry took her to a Boy Scout meeting on Thursday night (one would expect Henry to be a Boy Scout leader). He wants Ronna to do something with the boys, and true to form, I gave her a vulgar suggestion for an activity – but Ronna’s used to me by now.
Back in Brooklyn, we had a 10 PM dinner at the Floridian. In the car we kept laughing, saying how basically we could never stand each other. It was so funny, but if we really had meant it, we wouldn’t have been able to joke about our incompatibility.
Ronna said that her sister’s boyfriend is mean to her, joking about her weight and making fun of her; he’s not too bright, either (he plastered Sue’s name on the rear of his revved-up car), and Ronna only hopes that they don’t get married.
We went to my house and watched TV in the basement, but we both knew we couldn’t avoid touching each other. It was I who initiated it, but Ronna responded. I am so attracted to her still, but I found it hard (ha) to tell her that.
Actually, hugging and holding and kissing her was the best way I could express how I felt although I did tell her that I loved her. I thought it was all nice but didn’t expect it to get very far.
But we were standing up kissing and we got carried away; it was so fine (how lame am I in describing this?) and finally we were horizontal on the couch making love.
I came the first time and it felt good to have Ronna next to me, under me, again. We lay and talked softly and explored each other’s bodies (on TV, Olivia Newton-John was singing “I Honestly Love You”) and then we made love again – this time for Ronna, and it was good to feel her come.
We lay together like the old days – yet it seemed like we were never separated – until past 2 AM. I haven’t stayed up that late since last fall, and neither of us felt depressed.
I don’t think anything’s changed drastically. She said she loved me, and I love her so very much.