A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, June 11, 1975
I needn’t have worried about becoming smug and overconfident. By tonight I’m practically brimming over with self-doubt. Two rejection notices didn’t help: one from the Long Island Review, a form letter, and from The Smith, a typed note that says, “Thank you and good luck.”
But I guess I needed a little humility, right? I was going to be the man to save The Novel. Let’s see if I can save my own life.
I am becoming a little bored, and I would like to be working: it would be better for my self-esteem even though I have money in the bank and have been as stingy about spending cash as a constipated spinster.
Speaking of that, I called Vito today and we had a nice chat. He said it’s been a year since his stay in the hospital, an experience which taught him that if he ever wanted to commit suicide, he’d do it by constipating himself to death.
He’ll be going to summer school at Brooklyn College when the graduate session begins. Right now Vito is movie-hopping, at least until the end of the week, when the Rugoff discount passes run out.
Vito asked me if I wanted to go to the premiere of Nashville with him today, but I spent my discount for the week last night when I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Cinema I.
It was fairly amusing, but I was in a bad mood after weathering miserable Manhattan traffic and an acid stomach compounded by my inability to get into the new Woody Allen film.
I strode down Third Avenue fuming, and a passing woman gave me a chance to ventilate my wrath when she asked if she could “borrow” some change.
“What do I look like, Rockefeller!?” I shrieked at her madly. “Go get a job, you good-for-nothing lazy bum! It’s people like you who are ruining this city!” etc., etc. until she slunk away.
Passing people were convinced I was viciously maligning some dear old soul, but I didn’t give a shit.
Anyhow, to get back to Vito: he was in fine fettle on the phone. He said he thought my story about Scott and Elspeth was a “classic” that brought out the worst in both of them, and he said that Helen’s been seeing a lot of Mason but that she may also see her old boyfriend after all (apparently there had been a falling-out between them).
His family members are all fine, Vito reported. His brother stayed out till 3 AM, and Vito waited up for him like an anxious father. Nancy and Joey are okay, too.
God knows where Vito gets the money to see every show and film in town, even the ones that are impossible to get tickets for: he did say that he could use a job. It was good to hear from Vito again, and I want to see him soon.
After hanging up with him, I dialed Mara’s number. She was just on her way out, to meet Helen and Grace at Brighton Beach. I told her to stay put and I’d be right over to pick her up. As we drove to the beach, she took photos of me with Bob’s camera and said her graduation was one big bore.
Over the weekend, Mara went to Washington to visit Phyllis, who’s working there over the summer. While she was there, she saw the University of Maryland and was favorably impressed. So that about makes her mind up about grad school.
We finally found a parking space off Brighton Beach Avenue and then met Helen and Grace on the beach, sitting on blankets with Grace’s grandmother, who speaks only Spanish. It was great to see Helen again; she’s gotten thinner and I noticed she bleached the hairs on her chin. Helen also acts very mellow, as befits a Californian; she seemed very interested in my MFA program.
From her conversation, I gathered she was seeing a great deal of Mason: she and Grace were planning to go to his house in Rockaway this weekend. I know that Mason’s always been terribly fond of Helen, and that’s understandable.
Grace was her usual sprightly and quirky self; she’s going to summer school at BC. Her abuela is funny, too. We sat out on the beach for an hour or so, then Mara and I left, as she had to meet Bob in the city at 4:30 PM.
Mara will be going to that camp in Honesdale in two weeks, so we made tentative plans to see each other before her departure. It would also be nice to see Helen again before she leaves for the West Coast, but at least I’m glad I didn’t miss her altogether.
Quite a few of my friendships and acquaintanceships need patching up, and it’s good to work on that.
Friday, June 13, 1975
It’s been a dull, bland kind of Friday the 13th, not unlucky at all, just boring, mostly. But I didn’t wake up until 1 PM, so it’s been kind of a short day, too.
I was glad that Ronna and I had decided to work on the Channel 13 auction last night. We’ve been watching it every night at our house, and Dad and Marc have been bidding on some items, but so far they haven’t won anything.
On Sunday I mentioned to Ronna that it might be fun to volunteer. The auction ends tomorrow night, and on Tuesday afternoon she called and gave our names in.
I arrived at Ronna’s house during yesterday’s downpour. She was changing out of her wet clothes, having gotten caught in the rain on her way home from work. Ronna’s mother and grandmother were sitting around the kitchen table and her grandmother asked me how Grandma Sylvia was.
Later, Ronna told me that her grandmother said to her mother: “Walk them down the stairs, Beatrice. They’re not going together anymore.” I can’t understand the logic behind that admonition.
Anyhow, Ronna and I made our way to Astoria, where the auction was located, at LaGuardia Community College; supposedly it was the largest sound stage outside of California. I drove slowly, carefully and rather unsurely, but we got there with plenty of time to talk, both during the car ride and while we were waiting for someone to assign us a task.
Both Ronna and I were in “Special Forces,” a catchall group that seemed to be overflow from the volunteer bid takers, bid runners, bid verifiers, table movers, etc.
Ronna starts her vacation this week, and after that, she has only one week left at ARCO. She told me that tonight she’s going to be busy with her Boy Scout troop in Coney Island; she has to test them so they can get their merit badges or promotions or insignia of some sort.
I asked her what Henry does in the Boy Scouts, and she told me, with justifiable pride, that he’s the youngest Scoutmaster in the country.
Now I feel like a heel – I’m into 1940s movie talk now – for thinking things about Ronna and Henry. Even if they were romantically attached, as Ronna’s friend, I’d approve 100% of Henry. (As her ex-boyfriend and lover, of course, I’d be somewhat jealous.)
She’s been speaking to Ivan again, too. He’s still running the computer at In-Flight Services and going to college at night. For some reason, Ronna has had a lot of nice boyfriends. I guess I immodestly include myself on that list.
We were standing around, and I said, “What do we do if there’s nothing for us to do here?”
“Then we’ll go home and breathe on each other,” Ronna said, loud enough for several people to hear her and turn around to look at us. I was amazed and a touch embarrassed – but Ronna looked completely cool and somewhat pleased with herself.
Finally, Ronna got to be a sorter – that is, she was assigned to tabulate bids on particular items to see which was the highest – and I was seated at a telephone with scores of other people.
It was fun: the phone was constantly ringing, and I took a lot of bids on various items until 1 AM, when the auction went off the air. I got a lot of pleasure out of being part of a huge operation like that: there were friendly people to talk to all around me, and I enjoyed taking bids over the phone.
There were celebrities all over the place: soap opera actors and the talk-show host Joe Franklin; Allen Funt of Candid Camera; Sherman Hemsley, the star of The Jeffersons; and James Day, president of NET, who did all the cast interviews on The Forsyte Saga.
There was a free canteen downstairs in the gargantuan building, which had once been owned by the army. I met up with Ronna at 1 AM after we all applauded ourselves off the air; she said that she had a fine time, too.
I managed to find my way out of Astoria by remembering Scott’s mistakes last month – although it wasn’t until 2 AM that we got back to Ronna’s house in Canarsie.
When I hugged her goodnight, I wondered how she would manage to get up for work in the morning, although if I had to, I suppose I would have managed, too.
Back at home, I lay awake in bed for a couple of hours, thinking of my relationship with Ronna. I can ignore her “faults” now that I know I don’t have to live with them.
Saturday, June 14, 1975
I spent last night finishing Kenner’s A Homemade World, a truly fine book. It was odd last Tuesday, when Ronna called and mentioned in passing how much she wanted to read the book, not knowing that I was in the middle of reading it myself.
Now I must read more of the poets that Kenner covers in the book: Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Zukofsky, who’s been working on his poem A for 45 years and it’s not finished yet. Zukofsky lives in Brooklyn and used to teach at Poly Tech.
I am beginning to gain the same kind of appreciation for modern poetry that I have for modern fiction. A lot of it is a matter of just acquiring the taste for it. I’ve come so far in my literary sophistication, but I guess I’m still in my apprenticeship.
I slept deliciously well and had delightful, if not particularly creative, dreams. The other night I dreamed that a retarded boy was choking me, and I surprised myself by acting on one of the Creative Dreaming principles: I called upon dream-friends to rescue me and they came and did.
This morning I got a call from Gary. I told him I was in the middle of breakfast, as I was afraid he’d detain me with more chatter. Managing to extricate from the phone after only a few minutes, I promised to drop by at Gary’s house this evening.
Soon after Mikey called my house to find out what I was doing, I drove out to Rockaway to his place. Mikey had a birthday present for me, one I look forward to reading: Conversations with Kafka, a nice surprise.
On the beach, it was pretty foggy; the sun was trying to break through but it wasn’t strong enough. As we watched the surf roll in and out, Mikey said he doesn’t like his job at John Jay’s financial aid office very much: it’s boring and a lot of paperwork.
He has uncovered several suspicious cases, including one girl who applied for financial aid even though the records indicate her father has substantial property holdings in the Hamptons. And Mikey is being put in charge of allocating aid to the inmate-students enrolled in the Rikers Island program.
Larry called, wanting to know if Mikey would help move some guy’s things for $25 for each of them; Mikey declined, and Larry said he’d call Mason to see if he was interested.
Mikey said that last night he and Mason went over to Mike’s, and then Mason went over to see Helen, so I guess they are indeed an item now (not that I gossip, of course).
Mikey mentioned that Mike – who’s student-teaching this summer – said there are several CETA-funded jobs at Brooklyn College similar to the job Mikey has at John Jay, and perhaps I should look into it.
As we walked along the beach, Mikey and I chatted with his mother, who had joined us. The water was cold and rough, and you couldn’t see more than a block in either direction.
I drove down to Beach 105th Street, but Grandpa Nat’s car wasn’t in its space, and I knew Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb had gone to Oceanside for Cousin Jeffrey’s birthday party, so I returned home.
Driving around Canarsie this afternoon, I saw Stanley walking down Remsen Avenue; it was odd to see him in his own neighborhood. I saw his house, and it was funny because I’ve always thought of Stanley as living either in LaGuardia Hall or in some screening room. He came into my car as we drove around and talked.
We passed Rachel’s house. She must be home from Colorado by now, although I don’t expect to hear from her. A tall, mustached guy stood in front of her house, but that was probably her younger brother.
I’d like to see Rachel again, and perhaps I should call her.
Dropping Stanley off back where I found him so he could walk off his lunch, I wished him a good summer and returned home. Alice called to say hello and to say that she got herself picked up today, by a young guy in the TV store on Avenue N.
He’s taking her to the movies tonight, Alice said, and he’s the youngest guy she’s gone out with since Howie.
Robert was due home yesterday, so Alice called his mother and learned that his plans have changed and he won’t be coming home from London till mid-August because he needs more time for researching his dissertation.
It looks as though our pool is going to have to be completely done over, and it will cost a fortune – but Mom and Dad spend money like water (while lately I’ve become very tightfisted).
Tonight at Gary’s proved to be less boring than I had feared. Now that Kay’s away, I suppose I’ll be seeing more of Gary, who said that this was his first Saturday night spent at home in a year.
He had the slide projector he’d bought that morning. At the store, he ran into Mike and Cindy, recognizing Mike from the back by his “chicken skin.” Later in the day, Gary said, he spotted Bobby in Marine Park; Mikey had mentioned that Bobby was home from Ohio.
Anyway, it took two hours for Gary to show the slides of Strasbourg, Amsterdam, England and Wales, and I really wasn’t bored. Gary’s a surprisingly adept photographer, and his commentary was interesting, even managing to stir up the faint Desire To Travel in this stay-at-home’s soul.
I’d like to see Europe before I get too old to enjoy it; now I realize that it’s far away in distance, but I’ll still be safe there. One of Gary’s shots from Amsterdam was of a sign that said “Only 5,397 Miles to Wall Drug of South Dakota.”
Wednesday, June 18, 1975
It’s only just become Wednesday: the downstairs clock just struck midnight, but there are things I feel like saying, and I make the rules here, right?
I’ve just come from the party Libby threw for Mason at her new apartment, and I feel so good, so loved. To me, friendship seems like the most important thing in in life, and in that respect, I feel very rich.
There are so many people that I care about, and who care about me. Although we may see each other infrequently, we know that the bonds are still very strong.
It was a wonderful party. When I arrived, only Mason and Libby were there, plus Patty, whom I know only slightly as a friend of Mason’s and as a member of Elayne’s crowd from the Art Department.
Mason is leaving with his parents on Friday, following his brother’s high school graduation, and his family will drop him off at camp on their cross-country trip in the Winnebago.
Mason said he and Helen almost dropped by my house last night; I only wish they had. Helen is taking a very early flight back to California this morning; Matt will be driving her to the airport.
Libby introduced me to her roommates, and they seem very nice: they’ve done a wonderful job making the apartment look nice and homey.
Fred, Melvin’s roommate and Mason’s friend from the Fresh Air Fund camp, bicycled over all the way from Manhattan. He told me he bikes every day between Brooklyn and his job at the American Youth Hostel store in Manhattan.
From the AYH store, Fred says he knows Carl Karpoff. It’s wonderful the way everyone sort of connects into one big extended “family” network of friendship and associations.
I think that’s where my good feelings come from, knowing I’m a part of a huge loving “family,” which, as the years go by, means more to me than my real family.
While Fred took a shower to wash off the sweat and Libby fed him and Mason macaroni afterwards, I chatted with Patty, spending a lot of time talking to her.
We got pretty close: I opened up to her and told her all sorts of things about therapy and my relationships, and Patty was open with me, too. Both of us hated our friendless days in Midwood (she graduated high school three years after me).
For a while Patty lived on the Coast with her boyfriend – I think Mason met her when he went cross-country – but now she’s an Art Ed major like Libby, and she’s seeing a public school teacher, Larry, whom she obviously loves a lot.
Patty is very beautiful inside and outside, and it was nice to get to know her. Both of us talked with Fred, who’ll be moving to Queens and going to school there, because he wants to be with his girlfriend, whom I remember vaguely from Avis’s party last year.
Libby’s friend Nicky arrived rather unexpectedly. He works at Campus Closet with Brendan, and he’s crazy about Libby even though he knows how she feels about Mason. Nicky was acting a bit oddly, and later Libby told me that he’s been messed up and is on tranquilizers; he didn’t stay very long.
The Rockaway-LaGuardia axis arrived en masse: Mikey, Mike, Cindy and Larry. I had to tell Larry about Gary’s slide showing the Wall Drugs sign in Amsterdam because Larry collects those signs and has them in his bedroom. Mike and Cindy mentioned seeing Gary on Saturday at the photo supplies store.
Cindy said she likes her job but it’s tiring; Mike seems to enjoy student-teaching with retarded junior-high kids. Larry told me that the paper business is very slow these days, and his office has little work. But naturally, he arrived with gifts of colorful, interesting paper for Libby to make art projects with.
Brendan came too, a bit, late, and I always enjoy seeing him although I miss Louise. I hear she and Brendan don’t speak anymore, which is a shame. Brendan’s going to Montana later this summer and he’s into Transcendental Meditation.
Another woman who’s a TM instructor was also at the party. She was the only person there that I didn’t know beforehand.
Mikey said that when my French course at the Graduate Center begins, I should meet him for lunch in the city; that will be fun.
After we’d all stuffed ourselves with potato chips, onion dip and iced tea, Libby brought out her surprise: a coconut/pineapple/peach cake in the shape of a guitar. It was really a work of art, almost too beautiful to eat but too delicious not to. Libby also made her apple crisp and oatmeal cookies that I love.
After most people had left, Mason, Libby, Patty, Brendan and I retreated to Libby’s room to allow her roommates use of the apartment’s common room. Libby’s room is a very serene lavender and blue, and we sat on her mattress on the floor, listening to music, smoking and talking. It was so pleasant.
Yesterday, from morning till night, was an especially good day. Earlier, I’d felt very at home at Josh’s, sitting around the kitchen table with Josh, Robbie, Bobby, and this guy Kenny Fascola, an engaging ex-cop who’s going to be sharing Josh’s room with Josh’s brother this summer while Josh is away.
So twice in one day, I felt like I was close with good people. Before I left Libby’s tonight, I wished Mason a good summer, promised Libby I’d see her, and kissed Patty goodnight.