A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Friday, June 20, 1975
9 PM. I was just noticing how light it is at this hour, and then I realized that we’re approaching the summer solstice. After Sunday, it will officially be summer and the days will begin to get shorter.
I was working on “A Sophomore’s Diary: April 1971” last night and today, and I had to make a list fictionalizing the dozens of names that appear in the diary: I don’t want to slip and inadvertently put down a real person’s name.
For it is fiction: a tenuous kind of fiction, to be sure, but I’m withholding my judgment until I’ve completed transposing the diary into a fictional manuscript.
Actually, I’m certain it’s my reading of Manuel Puig and my admiration for his narrative techniques which made me try this experiment. I don’t really expect anyone to follow 90% of the “characters”: on the first three pages of the story, I introduce about thirty names, and that’s all most of them are, just names.
But it does give me a feeling of movement, of the kind of circus that LaGuardia Hall was. And doing this is a kind of self-analysis for me.
I look back and see an intensely romantic young sophomore, caught up in a clinging neurotic relationship; a person terribly concerned with listing people’s names as a kind of show of his own worth (the more friends you have, the better you are); a phobic guy, totally out of touch with his feelings, panicked by his own homosexual desires, unsure about enjoying his first sexual adventures with a girl; a boy who wants recognition and who is essentially a manipulator.
In the past four years I’ve changed and I haven’t changed. At least I hope my writing style has become more sophisticated: the 19-year-old me would be hurt to know that I find his earnestness and emotional outpourings rather funny.
Yet it’s affectionate, gentle laughter, and perhaps the 1971 Richie would understand.
I overslept and missed Jonny’s graduation from junior high this morning; it was at 9 AM and I just couldn’t rouse myself.
Dad took the day off and later took Jonny to play golf, which is my littlest brother’s sole passion these days. Marc’s been home with a vague illness the past couple of days; he says he feels very weak.
I bicycled over to Hal’s this afternoon, and he invited me up to his porch. He was sitting, wearing only shorts, of course, with a woman I’d recognized vaguely.
Even with my bad eyesight at a distance, I knew she wasn’t Ivy, and it turned out she was Annie, Evan’s little sister. We met several years ago at that “wink” party given by Hal’s old girlfriend.
Evidently Annie’s still friendly with her, and what Hal’s relationship with Annie is, I can only guess: I really am trying to give up gossip.
There’s nothing wrong with Hal and Ivy having an open marriage. Ivy has always struck me as a very wise woman and by now I assume that she has learned how to live as Mrs. Hal.
Hal was disappointed when I told him Ronna and I are no longer seeing each other. “She’s probably the only girl who was in my car for twelve hours and still came out a virgin,” he said.
Hal and Annie are planning on taking a camping trip to the Adirondacks and asked if I’d be interested in joining them, just the three of us. “Ivy would like it,” he said. “For some weird reason, she’s fond of you.”
Why Ivy would like my going on a camping trip with her husband and another woman is a question I didn’t ask. Maybe I misunderstood who was going on the trip.
I told them I wasn’t much for camping out but maybe Ronna might want to come along with them, as I know how much she enjoyed her many camping trips with Ivan, and more recently, with Henry and Craig.
Hal brought us out plates of chocolate chip ice cream as I stroked the head of his friendly little dog. I seem to get along great with the dogs of all of Ronna’s old boyfriends – as I did yesterday with Ivan’s Tiger.
Hal said he’s begun writing stories again; the first one he wrote this summer is about a married man who screws around. I wonder where he got that idea from.
Actually, I think most of Hal’s fiction is directly autobiographical first-person narrative. When he was an undergraduate, Hal said, Baumbach dug only his violent scenes. That sounds exactly like both Jon and Hal.
Hal told me he bought a mouthpiece yesterday; I didn’t know he was still boxing. I told him I still had my old boxing gloves somewhere but hadn’t really used them since I was about 16.
Annie and Hal were very pleasant companions to while away a spring/summer afternoon with, and I’d like to see more of them.
This evening Allan called and told me a long, involved story about what’s going on with his job at Columbia.
When Allan returned to work on Monday, he and Mancia received letters from their boss, complaining about their work: specifically, that they’ve failed to do assigned tasks, that they’ve taken too-long coffee breaks and disrupted work in the xerox room, and that Allan works on the Times crossword puzzle all day.
Allan was furious and tore the letter up in the boss’s face. Obviously, since they know he’s leaving the job in August, they don’t want to fire him because then they’d have to pay unemployment insurance.
Now Allan and Mancia are planning to fuck up the people in the office who were responsible for the letter. (Byzantine office politics was involved.) There’s going to be some kind of hearing, and Allan says he’s got other tricks up his sleeve.
Frankly, I found his desire for revenge almost vicious. I suppose I admired how Allan faced down Elihu, but now I’m beginning to see Allan in a different light.
More and more, I think that it’s true that the flip side of a person’s best qualities is often the same thing as their worst faults.
And anyway, I feel alien to a lot of Allan’s lifestyle: his constant smoking (he and Fat Ronnie thought it was cool that they got stoned on the plane to Tampa) and his dilly-dallying in gay bars every night.
Tomorrow afternoon Alice, Josh and I are going to Prospect Park for a reading by Spielberg. Josh says he’s pissed that Peter gave him only a B in the Fiction Workshop, but I don’t think he’ll say anything. Nor do I expect Alice to carry out her plan to yell “Author! Author!” after Spielberg finishes reading his work.
Monday, June 23, 1975
7:30 PM. I was going to see a movie tonight, but on the way to the theater I decided I didn’t really want to spend the money. Since I’m not working, I have to watch every nickel and dime. I have only $260 in the bank, and I want that to last for a long time.
Last evening, after the beach traffic had died down, I took a ride out to Rockaway. Mom wanted me to deliver some things to Grandpa Herb, and I felt I could stand getting out of the house.
Speeding down the Boulevard, I noticed Mikey coming the other way; we both made U-turns and nearly missed each other a second time, but finally he stayed put and I drove over to his Datsun.
Mikey was on his way to Larry’s house to hang out for the evening. Mike had been over for the day, and they had gone to Stuie’s to play basketball and then sit out on the beach.
Cindy wasn’t with them; her little sister is in the hospital following an operation to correct a congenital hip condition. Unfortunately, the surgery was apparently unsuccessful and there’ll have to be another painful operation.
I arrived at Grandma Ethel’s after I finally managed to find parking on Beach 101st Street. The newly restored beach by them has made things much more crowded on the weekend.
I gave Grandpa Herb a belated Father’s Day gift from the family: a bathing suit outfit. He tried it on and bickered with Grandma Ethel about whether it needed alternations or not.
Cousin Jeffrey called while I was there; Grandma Ethel says he calls them the way I would when I was his age. I spoke to Jeff and asked him how his birthday bowling party was. He said he scored 85 in two games, came in second and got a trophy, that his parents gave the top three scorers trophies.
“And what did the other kids get?” I asked him. “Bupkis?” I had to explain to Jeff what bupkis meant. Grandma overheard and was amazed that I “could speak Yiddish.”
After I wished Jeffrey a good summer in sleepaway camp, I had a late supper with my grandparents and then left for home, where I stayed up until 2 AM, devising another one of my “fictional essays.”
This one is called “Notes on the Type.” I got the idea from reading all the notes on the typefaces in various hardcover books and the interesting facts often presented in a style peculiar to that very specialized genre.
The piece I wrote is only five pages, but I think it’s kind of cute. It’s great how writing the diary pieces has also liberated more of my creativity in other directions. I feel so fertile for literary ideas.
Today I did another seven pages of “A Junior’s Diary: Autumn 1971.” This whole thing is either going to be a brilliant piece of fiction or a ludicrous embarrassing failure.
Still, I’m not scared of some failures – although being an American, I tend to abhor the condition of failure as a sign that something is terribly wrong.
I got a letter the other day, a response to my query to the head of the Ph.D. program in Creative Writing at the University of Utah. I could earn my doctorate in English while writing a creative dissertation and taking most of my credits in workshops and tutorials.
There would also be a chance to take literature courses, of course, and all Ph.D. candidates are automatically given teaching fellowships with a stipend of $2800 a year. It sounds fantastic. I think I will apply there for the fall term of 1976, after I get my MFA.
Salt Lake City is awfully far away, but maybe a drastic change in environment will be good for me. I’ve gotten over so many hurdles, but as yet, I’ve not been able to make the break from home and family and Brooklyn College and New York City.
And to be paid to teach and write and study: I can’t think of a more satisfactory life. So I’ll ask for an application form, getting my GRE scores and letters of recommendations and transcripts, and give it a shot. Who knows?
I’m entranced by the numerous possibilities life holds. A dyed-in-the-wool sentimentalist and cornball, last night I lay in bed at 3 AM and thought: Is there any human being who ever enjoyed life more?
I’d like to change my slugabed habits, though; next week, when my class begins, I’ll have to start getting up early three days a week.
Marc has been ill for days and days, and tomorrow he’s going to see a doctor, as Marc thinks he has mono. Knock on wood, my own health has been excellent except for occasional sinusitis and stomach aches.
Wednesday, June 25, 1975
8 PM. I really think going to the University of Utah might be the best thing for me. I suppose it’s presumptuous of me to say that, not having been accepted, not having even applied yet.
But I haven’t made that final break with childhood, and I wonder if I ever can do it while living here in New York City. Philip Roth said a Jewish man with his parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy and will be a fifteen-year-old boy until they die.
Right now, having time for writing and going to school matters more to me than having my own apartment; I just couldn’t swing the money part of it.
I had a restless night: my sinuses were hurting, and I had a bad headache. It was somewhat less hot today, but still very humid, and I can’t say I’ve been very active.
I did get a somewhat encouraging “rejection” letter today, which wasn’t really a rejection at all. Thomas Michael Fisher, the editor of a little magazine called Star-Web Paper sent back my stories with this note (on the reverse side of a draft of a poem entitled “song from the Tamil”):
Dear Richard Grayson:
yeah, i think you can write. i’d like to see a big batch of your work in a couple of months, say at fall’s beginning, and till then i’ll be getting out the several issues of material i already have on hand. sending sun, grass. stay in touch!
I was pleased by the note, especially since I didn’t send him my best stories. It’s kind of hard to believe he’s an editor and publisher, as his lower-case scrawl is like that of a seven-year-old.
I did no writing today at all; I felt like taking a break. I bought vitamin C and the Village Voice, had lunch at Nathan’s in Oceanside, went over to Arlyne and Marty’s but found no one at home.
The Voice had an article on “The Mass Marketing of Gay” that was very interesting. By now the gay “sensibility” (if there is such an animal) is firmly entrenched in heterosexual culture. New York is a gay city, much the same way that it is (or was) a Jewish city.
Homosexuality, people say, was once the love that dare not speak its name, but these days it won’t shut up. Being bisexual, I am very sympathetic to gay liberation, but the gay lifestyle I see in the media and my friends’ lives turns me off.
All those short-haired, bearded men in tight T-shirts who walk around Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights seem to me rather insipid-looking. And I really dislike what I know of the gay bar scene that Allan and others are so heavily into. Yes, I realize it’s wrong for me to say that without having experienced it first-hand, but then I never claimed to be perfect.
There is a homosexual guy I’m interested in, both as a person and a writer, and he’s the average gay person who has to put up with high food prices and crabgrass, someone who likes the theater and movies but also football – the kind of gay guy who is no different than his straight brother except for his sexual preference.
Look, I have strong homosexual desires, but that doesn’t change me or make me different from so-called “normal” Americans, and I identify with the American way of life, etc.
Reading over what I just wrote, it sounds like bullshit, but I’m not really putting it the way I want to. Take a deep breath, Grayson, and say what you mean:
Okay, I’m gay. Or half-gay, or whatever. But I’m still as good as anybody in this country, and I want to be a part of the community as a whole, not be assigned (even by myself) to the artsy-craftsy gay ghetto of Brooklyn Heights.
Because I feel my neighborhood, with its Italians and flag-wavers and churchgoers and American Legionnaires, is somehow more “real” and the long run more relevant than the gay world I see in the Heights and the Village. I guess it’s the great split in me that shows up in my writing as well as anything else:
I am an intellectual, but I also want to be a Regular Guy, a good neighbor, an average Joe. I don’t consider myself superior to the people on my block just because I know who Edmund Wilson is, and I want to remain among these people and my parents, at least in some way.
Yet I also see a lot of their lives as a materialistic façade and . . . oh, what the hell. I’ve been ranting uncontrollably and making no sense. But as Mrs. Ehrlich would say, I’m entitled.
Friday, June 27, 1975
5 PM. My head has cleared up a bit since yesterday. It was on the cool side today. Anyway, I finished “A Junior’s Diary: Autumn 1971” last night and then had a hard time getting to sleep.
A million things kept running through my mind. I thought of the Village Voice‘s review of the Fiction Collective’s new books and their quote, “Not even the Fiction Collective always errs. . . ”
Baumbach, Spielberg and Company have such a holier-than-thou attitude, as if, to quote the New York Times reviewer, they were “the last of the beleaguered experimentalists” (I used that line in my last story).
I would rather reach more people than snobbishly disdain the masses. As the Voice critic stated, if you’re reading James Joyce, the difficulty is well worth it, but feebler talents like me would do better to appease the reader with some plot, characterization and continuity if they don’t want their books to be junked instantly.
Baumbach can make fun of the late Jacqueline Susann in a magazine article, but who in the end has the last laugh? Millions of people know or have read Susann but I doubt if .01% of them have ever heard of Baumbach.
His smugness, and Spielberg’s, raises my hackles (to use a quaint cliché). I’d rather write a daytime serial and know how many people were hearing my words than write 100 Fiction Collective books.
Anyhow, I finally did cool down enough to get to sleep at 3 AM or so and woke up late this morning. I’m kind of surprised, though I probably shouldn’t be, that Ronna never returned my calls.
I remember when I was going with her how she used to not return her other friends’ calls so as to spend more time with me. Again, an instance of something I once liked about a person becomes exactly that quality that drives me up a wall. (File for future reference.)
Ronna’s not calling bothers me, but I realized something: I’ve been reacting productively and positively all along by writing. Now that I think about it, I did hardly any creative writing all the time I was seeing Shelli and then Ronna; the relationships were so intense that there wasn’t enough psychic energy left over to write.
I got another non-acceptance today: the magazine folded for lack of funds. I went to Brooklyn College to get my stories xeroxed and saw Josh and his brother selling plants in front of Hillel Gate.
Elayne came upon me and walked me to the copy center, where I gave in my order. Elayne was on her lunch hour, so we sat down on the quadrangle and hung out. She’s a bit worried that her jobs at BC and the Graduate Center are threatened by the budget cuts.
I’ve told Elayne and Elihu about my LaGuardia stories and they’re both anxious to read them. I’m sure they have a very different conception of the writing than what it really is: it’s mostly my story, after all.
Elihu is going on his whirlwind vacation next week. Elayne said Elihu did some “impolitic” things that got him into hot water with the Madison crowd, whom she thinks are all sickies anyway.
She told me that novelist Stanley Hoffman came over to her apartment and propositioned her (they had met casually months ago at a party), using lines straight out of some bad novel.
She’s the third person I know who’s told me a similar story; both Stacy and Karen had the same experience with the formerly fat novelist. Elayne says he doesn’t even know how to kiss right, that he does it with his teeth.
I’d like to meet Mr. Hoffman one day and size him up for myself; I don’t think I’d like him very much, but he does sound amusing.
Mike came over to where we were sitting and joined us. His student teaching ended yesterday, but he has to attend lectures till the end of July.
Then Melvin came over, and in response to a question from Mike, Melvin said he’ll be graduating in January.
“That’s what you said last summer,” Elayne said, and I said, “Ah, but he didn’t say which January.”
Leroy dropped by with a dog that looked like a bear; he and Elayne are on good terms now that all their crises are behind them. It was fun to be with them just like in the old days.
After I picked up my xeroxed stories, I came home for the rest of the afternoon.
Monday, June 30, 1975
Yesterday afternoon I went over to Grandma Sylvia’s, but Grandpa Nat’s car wasn’t in his parking space on Beach 105th Street. (He wanted the first space by the ocean, but that has caused the salt air to make the passenger side of his car all corroded.) Only later did I learn that Monty is again in the hospital.
Since my grandparents weren’t home, I returned home, going through the Five Towns and Rockaway Boulevard. I was appalled at the many cars parked by the roadside near Kennedy Airport and people taking their children and cameras out to the site of last Tuesday’s jet crash.
The worst air disaster in American history, 112 people dead, and these ghouls make a family outing out of it as they go merrily searching for souvenirs. But even worse, I’ve heard reports of people coming to the crash site on Tuesday and taking jewelry and wallets off the freshly-dead bodies.
More and more, I believe that despite what most sociologists and social psychologists would have us believe, some people are just plain evil.
I slept poorly last night; I knew I had to get up early to go to class in Manhattan, and I kept waking up every half-hour. For months now, I’ve been getting up naturally, allowing my body to take all the rest it needs, and until today, I didn’t realize what a luxury that was.
I took the bus to the Kings Highway station and took the D train to 42nd Street. I arrived early, but too late to get the last textbook for our class at the Graduate Center bookstore because they were sold out when I got there.
Barnes & Noble doesn’t have the text, and neither do any of the bookstores in Brooklyn, but other people are in the same boat as me. There are fifteen or so students in the class, which is big for an intensive language course.
The teacher, Ms. Belfer, is a bouncy, jolly woman who will make things interesting, but even so, a 2½-hour class is hard to take. I remembered my French as we went into it, but she was throwing so much at us at once that it was enough to cause a headache.
As I rode home, I realized I hadn’t had that kind of headache – a combination of lack of sleep and tension – in many months. At one point in my life I got tension headaches like that every day.
I willed my muscles to relax and massaged my temples and neck and did some yoga tricks, and by the time I got home, the headache was gone.
In today’s mail I received a letter from Congressman Mo Udall, who says he can use my help in the New York presidential primary next year. And tonight a woman named Jo Baer called from Rockland County, inviting me to a meeting Wednesday evening at some doctor’s apartment in Manhattan, where Udall will be speaking to volunteers and donors.
I’ve always managed to eventually back off from all my initially enthusiastic political efforts on behalf of candidates – because I’m always disappointed by them. But this might be interesting, being in on a presidential campaign from the beginning.
Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel were over today; they wanted to see how Marc was doing. He looks somewhat better, but he’s still feeling pretty weak.
I managed to squeeze out an hour in the sun, sitting by our new pool, though I’m aware that I did absolutely nothing to help Mom and Dad with it. I should probably feel guilty, but I don’t.
I wrote today, starting “The Séance” section of my novel. It does seem to be an attempt at a novel by now, even if it’s a novel made up of stories.
I wrote interior monologues for the characters based on Allan, Ivan and Cynthia; I still have to write ones for the characters based on Avis, Scott, Stacy and myself. Somehow I managed to get Puig’s rhythm in Heartbreak Tango and Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, and I think it just might work.
Today’s writing came to twelve typed pages, and maybe I can finish this section by the end of next week. (I don’t have that much time now, with school and all, so I think my pace will slow down considerably.)
Altogether, though, I have a 100-page manuscript so far, and that, to me, is quite an accomplishment.
I’m exhausted tonight. Tomorrow will be July and the first half of 1975 will be over. What a great six months this has been for me; I’ve been feeling so energetic and creative and vital lately, sometimes I believe that my entire life is a dream.