A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1975
by Richard Grayson
A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1975
Thursday, July 3, 1975
6 PM. The July 4th holiday weekend is upon us, and I’ve cheered up considerably since yesterday. After sleeping well, I was up bright and early this morning. It’s becoming easier to adjust to as the days go on, and it’s pleasant to be out in the morning before the heat of the day really wears you down.
I’m enjoying my French class a lot; I just wish I had the textbook. Ms. Belfer is a marvelous teacher: interesting, witty, vibrant and entirely un-self-conscious. I was quite lucky to stay with her, because Prof. Flaxman, the director of the Summer Language Institute, came in today and split up our class because it was too large.
The people in the class are in a lot of different fields: there’s a man getting his Ph.D. in Math, a woman going for her doctorate in Anthropology, and Dr. Allen, a black woman who’s a psychology professor at John Jay.
Taking the subways isn’t so bad: I did it all the time when I was a Voice messenger in January, and most of the D trains are air-conditioned. I suppose I’ve always been comfortable with routines, and now that everything is becoming routinized, I’m very happy.
I got an envelope from the Alumni Association containing a photo Neil took of me with Skipper Jo Davidson, the legendary Theater professor. I don’t know if that means it’s going in the Alumni Bulletin or that it’s not and that’s why I could have the photograph. There was no note of explanation sent with the picture.
Hal called last night, asking if he could borrow my Writer’s Market. It seems he’s been writing a lot and he wants to send out some of his stuff now. I told him to drop by anytime today and he came at 4 PM with Ivy.
I think he had just picked her up from work at the hospital; she said something about supporting Hal the way my parents are supporting me. It’s odd to have married people to a house that’s not really mine; still, my room is mine and that’s where we stayed.
I showed Hal and Ivy some of my writing, and as I expected, neither of them really ‘got’ “Rampant Burping” or similar stuff. Hal read a good portion of my “Séance” section and he recognized most of the characters as the old LaGuardia people, who he thought were very weird. He mentioned talking to Steve Katz, who defended Leon as a great person to Hal, who had no use for Leon.
It seems Hal and Ivy went to North Carolina last week to see Steve and Paula. The two women have been very close since public school; Ivy said Steve is going to school for biostatistics, Paula’s working, and they have a lovely apartment and are very happy. That’s good: I’ve always liked Steve and Paula, and I miss them.
While Hal was fooling around with my Bullworker and barbells, I asked Ivy about Marc’s mono. Ivy said she had it one summer when she was very depressed about breaking up with her boyfriend of four years: she wasn’t eating or sleeping and finally her mother made her go out and do a wash and she passed out in the laundry room.
Her mono didn’t show up right away, but she was ill for six weeks. She mentioned that there are some studies that indicate that having mono might give you immunity to cancer.
Ivy and Hal said they’d have me over to dinner. They also wanted to invite Ronna, but I told them Ronna doesn’t return my calls. Hal said he phoned her last week about going on that camping trip with him and Annie, and that Ronna said she was going on trips to Virginia and up to Cape Cod.
It felt odd to hear of Ronna’s plans from someone else. Ivy tried to make me feel better by saying, “All girls are crazy!” That woman is as sweet as I remembered her. They left as it started to rain.
After 5 PM, I called Scott in Washington to wish him a happy birthday. He was very glad to hear from me. Despite all of Scott’s obnoxiousness, I can’t stay angry with him for long.
And I figured he was feeling a bit lonely; he was, and it made me feel good to be able to cheer him up a bit. All my gracious gestures are ultimately very selfish.
We talked only a few minutes. It was 95° in Washington, Scott said, and he mentioned that he’s going to the 6th Annual Smoke-In on the Mall tomorrow.
Scott mentioned writing Avis a long letter and hopes she’ll write back. I said, “I’m sure she will.”
Saturday, July 5, 1975
Last night I lay awake until 3 AM, feeling absolutely wonderful. Like so many other nights lately, it was a time to think about my life and the absolute joy it brings me.
I had a wonderful time at dinner last evening; there was so much family feeling and love around the table. And as I thought about it, I realized that the past year at home has been very good indeed.
I’m able to check my anger now and thus avoid nasty scenes, like last week, when Dad, complaining about my laziness, said that he’d like to measure the size of my ass. I got angry and slammed the door. Dad started to explode and yelled, “You don’t like it when I say that?”
I thought first and cooled down and turned the whole thing into a joke by imitating Jerry Lewis and saying, “I like it! I like it! ” in a funny voice. Thus, what could have been a lacerating blowup ended with everybody, including Dad and me, laughing.
At night, I always end up thanking Someone when I see how rich my life has been. At these moments I feel so sublime; it’s an indescribably good feeling. I started to set down on paper some of my thoughts; I put it in the third person, starting it with, “Secretly, you see, he was an optimist . . .” and I ended up with a regular story that turned out to be seven pages long when I typed it up today.
I call it “The Smile in the Closet” because the whole idea of it is that this guy is a secret optimist and lover of life. To his friends, he poses as a well-meaning scatterbrain and genial cynic, but often he feels overwhelmingly happy for reasons he cannot explain.
And it’s true of me: there’s nothing in my background to indicate why I should feel so good so often. It came upon me suddenly and it’s stayed with me. I can’t talk about it with friends, because they’d either think I’m crazy or a goody-goody Pollyanna.
And if they did believe me, they might hate me because I was so happy. So, like the unnamed character in my story, I keep my joy a secret: I’m a closet optimist. It’s a very unfashionable attitude to have and makes you immediately suspect.
Anyway, I liked the new story very much; it’s the most optimistic of my fictions, but I hope that the idea of it being somewhat shameful will make it more palatable to pessimistic people.
Once again, I’m feeling really secure about my writing. Josh says he can’t write. I can’t not write. So I’m a writer.
Today the University of Utah sent me their application forms, and I’m truly excited about the possibility of going there. I even wrote to Avis, asking her what Salt Lake City was like. I feel that a whole new universe of possibilities is opening up for me.
I don’t want to go on, because this constant good-feeling becomes tedious (for the imaginary audience I’m writing this to).
This afternoon I went over to Alice’s. Her mother was in the backyard, working with her garden’s flowers. Sitting on the bench with a vase of flowers and a straw hat on, Mrs. Connors looked like some serene Renoir painting.
Alice is now working at the Vanderveer houses again. She and Andreas decided to give up their apartment – Renee’s old apartment – feeling it wasn’t worth the money and the trouble.
Last night Kurt from the TV store called Alice after two weeks of silence. He screws so many girls, maybe he finds her a challenge or something different. She figures Kurt is willing to spend money on her, so she’ll go to dinner with him tonight. But Alice still feels she has nothing in common with him.
However, she does want to have an affair with Ed Rapp, the gym teacher at her school, and she said that may begin this week.
Alice told me of her frustrations as a writer with rejections and the cool reactions of editors; that’s something we both understand.
We both hate Joyce Maynard (we’re jealous of her, but that’s not all), the self-appointed spokeswoman of our generation. Alice lent me this really nasty article about her; she lives the life of an Emily Dickinson recluse in New Hampshire near her lover, J.D. Salinger.
Sunday, July 6, 1975
6 PM. It looks like a thunderstorm will soon strike. I’ve just finished reading the Sunday Times, getting my “fix” for the week.
E. L. Doctorow got a fantastic review for his new novel, Ragtime; I can’t wait to read it. Doctorow was teaching at Utah in the Writing Program, but I’m sure he’ll be gone by the time I would get there.
Still, I feel very excited by the ideas I’m getting for stories. I’d like to turn to social comedy, the way Galsworthy did when he was at his best: the kinds of thing Alison Lurie does so well, or what Mazursky does in film.
Basically, my subject has always been The American Comedy. There are materials everywhere just waiting to be used in fiction.
For instance, Alice told me about her dentist, who fears the extermination of mankind in thirty years unless all the people of earth work together to solve our problems.
To help move things in the right direction, Alice’s dentist has proposed a 100-page program to save humanity. He sent copies to people like Gunnar Myrdal, Jesse Jackson, Robert Coles and Linus Pauling, and surprisingly, he received favorable responses from people. (The letters are hung in his dental office.)
Basically, to implement his plan, Alice’s dentist believes we must get all the Third World nations on our side so we can push the program through the General Assembly of the UN – but first America has to end our race problems.
He suggests that companies like GM and IBM give their employees time off to be Big Brothers to ghetto youth. Also, white women would go into blacks’ homes and show them how to raise their children.
It sounds hilariously paternalistic and pretty nutty to me. Alice’s dentist must be a crackpot, but being a crackpot is an American phenomenon.
Today I read about Buckminster Fuller, who says we should give up selfishness and that all problems can be solved by technology.
Basically I’ve always felt the opposite, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. The article on Fuller was written by Hugh Kenner, who’s a very perceptive and intelligent man.
Anyway, back to my own life: I had a wonderful time last evening; I had forgotten how great it is to be out on a Saturday night.
Marc gave me the two tickets he’d bought for the Schaefer Festival concert of Blood, Sweat and Tears in Central Park.
I asked Gary to accompany me. He’s very excited because he got a job teaching Social Psychology at St. John’s, starting tomorrow, for the six-week summer session.
Last evening I picked up Gary at Barnes & Noble, where he was scouring textbooks he could use. Like me four months ago at LIU, he doesn’t have much time to prepare.
We found parking off Fifth Avenue, although we had to stay in the car until 7 PM, when the space became legal. We had the cheaper $1.50 seats on benches in the balcony at the Wollman Skating Rink, but we sat in the first row and heard Blood, Sweat and Tears as well as anyone, and we probably saw as well, too.
The music was great. I’ve always liked David Clayton-Thomas, and I also loved the crowd itself, as a mood of mellowness pervaded the whole place.
I feel very much a part of my generation: we shared a joint with some guy with granny glasses (who had bought the dope), two black girls and one pregnant blonde who was so enthusiastic that it was fun just watching her dig on the music.
As always, there was an air of almost casual sensuousness, and I must have seen fifty guys and girls whose bodies I could have gotten into.
Somehow I felt free, and that all the people at the concert were my friends. There were even two elderly couples sitting near us, and that was a good thing too.
It was so beautiful: it was dusk and warm enough so that you didn’t need a jacket but cool enough so that you didn’t sweat. And there was the background of the park, and the buildings like the nearby Plaza Hotel, and the WCBS-FM plane flying overhead, and of course the beat of the music.
It was worth much more than the buck and a half I paid for a ticket: two hours of real pleasure.
Back in Brooklyn, Gary and I went to Jahn’s in Sheepshead Bay, where I had a great hamburger and an even better coffee ice-cream soda, and he asked my advice on teaching his class. I was home by 10:30 PM but felt so exhilarated that I didn’t fall asleep until about 6 AM.
Monday, July 7, 1975
7 PM. Today was a rather ordinary day, yet I feel very good now, as if I were enjoying something rare and precious. As I wrote in my “Smile in the Closet,” the little routines of my day-to-day life have always afforded me such inordinate pleasures.
Now that my classes at the Graduate Center have settled into a comfortable pattern, I no longer feel some of the anxiety inherent in a free-form life. I need some structure in my life, to make me realize and appreciate the value of my “own” time.
French class is going splendidly, and Miss Belfer is a marvelous teacher as well as a great person. We all talked over coffee in the cafeteria during our break, and I’m glad to say that I think I could relate to Miss Belfer as a friend and not just a teacher.
She’s about 27 or 28, I guess, and she seems to be in that overweight/charmingly neurotic/academic/single/Jewish woman milieu. She spent the weekend with a man at a hotel in the Catskills and said her mother would die if she found out.
Today we went over pronouns, and although we’re going quickly, I think I’m absorbing everything. After class, I took the Broadway IRT local up to Columbia to buy the text for myself and for Miss Belfer at Salter’s Bookstore.
If I had felt less sweaty and less hungry and if it hadn’t been raining, I would have lingered around the campus. I like the ambiance of Columbia and that stretch of Broadway. It’s another of those places, like the Schaefer concert in the park, where I feel at home and a part of things.
Marc had a bad day today and he felt particularly weak. The doctor said that the second test did not show any indication of mono. But Bunny, who had been all over Marc despite the possibility of contagion, was ill all week at the sleepaway camp where she had gone to be a counselor.
Bunny came home today, feeling weak and with a bad sore throat, so that would seem to indicate mono. I certainly would not have kept kissing my girlfriend if I knew she might have mono, but I was always something of a cautious hypochondriac.
Alice went out with Kurt on Saturday, got very drunk over dinner, and finally had sex with him at his apartment. She said he was incredible, doing things just for her pleasure until it made her nervous and tired.
She’s used to Andreas and his gentle, offhand way of making love, and Kurt’s intensity was too much for her. Alice said that Kurt is probably crazy about her – he kept raving about her voluptuousness, which sounded ridiculous even to Alice – but she doesn’t want to see him again.
However, I think Kurt will keep calling Alice until she gives in and sees him again. Today, she was going to see Ed Rapp, the gym teacher. She keeps all these things from Andreas because she doesn’t want to hurt him.
I feel very bad about the racehorse Ruffian. Yesterday was the filly’s celebrated match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, and Ruffian broke her leg during the race and had to be destroyed after surgery failed.
Although I was never particularly fond of horses, I feel sad and angry that human exploitation led to Ruffian’s death. Dad, who has owned a race horse, disagreed and said it wasn’t that. He says Ruffian died because she had that competitive spirit which made her want to try so hard to win.
This evening I went out to the Junction to buy some vitamin C at the health food store; the man there gave me a piece of carrot cake, on the house. I want to keep my resistance high so that I don’t become susceptible to mono.
Driving down Flatbush Avenue, I noticed Cheryl and her boyfriend Lenny; she worked at the Grapevine in LaGuardia four years ago. Leon was very much taken with her, and she went out with Carl Karpoff for a while, but through it all, this guy Lenny was always her loyal boyfriend.
And now, after all these years, he still is, and seeing them walking hand-in-hand on Flatbush Avenue made me feel very good.
Last night I started a new story: “Here at Cubist College.” It’s a lot of wordplay, though mostly fun for me, I suppose. Today I got rejections from Ms. (“The Peacock Room” finally came back to “Robin” Grayson, the female pseudonym Susan Schaeffer told me to use) and Chicago Review.
Both were impersonal form letters, and I’ve decided not to send anything out for a while. There are very few manuscripts of mine still left rotting on some editor’s desk, and while Hal has my copy of Writer’s Market, I’m just going to write for myself, not for some stupid magazine, nor for the Fiction Workshop class, nor for Baumbach and Spielberg.
At this hour, Gary is teaching his class at St. John’s; I’m interested in finding out if it went well.
Wednesday, July 9, 1975
10 PM. I eased my conscience tonight, as I finished “Here at Cubist College.” I think it’s cute and perhaps too cute. Certainly I’m writing stuff which is above the heads of 98% of the people.
Intellectually, I’m above 98% of the people, but I worry about being thought of as an elitist. Culturally, I am a very traditional kind of Jew, and I have always put a high value on being “hamishe” : that is, the kind of person you can take your shoes off with, somebody with no airs or pretensions.
Seeing Henry yesterday, I felt a little envious, and it had nothing to do with his relationship with Ronna. Henry is such a clear-eyed, hamishe person that it’s hard not to admire him. He may not be the cleverest person in the world, but you know somehow that he’ll always do the right thing. And yet you don’t feel he’s a moralist or a prig.
In an odd way, I feel the same things about President Ford; I don’t agree with most of his policies, but I like him and feel that he’s a decent human being.
Am I a decent human being, whatever that is, or am I instead the dark, brooding, devilish, degenerate intellectual? There are so many contradictions to my personality that I don’t think I’ll ever work out.
Once I thought that, with psychotherapy, everything could ultimately be “worked through” and understood. But I’ve stopped believing so much in therapy and I’ve started believing more in myself and in the inner resources of persons in general.
I gained so much from therapy, but I know that it mostly depended upon me. When I finally wanted to see things that existed, I did: therapy may have speeded up the process of insight, but the insight probably would have happened eventually without therapy.
And not even the most skillful therapist could help me when I didn’t want to be helped or couldn’t help myself. But I want to be more open, at least with myself. I don’t ever intend to publish this diary entry in a story, so I can write for myself here, anything I please.
Of late, I’ve been bothered by homosexual feelings coming to the fore. The old days of “Oh my God, I’m a fag and I’m so ashamed” are practically gone. Society’s changed, and I’ve changed. (And – here we go with another “oddly enough” – lately all of my erotic dreams, as opposed to conscious thoughts, have been about women, like Stacy the other night.)
No, I’d sort of like to try a gay relationship now, but I’m still scared and I don’t really know where or how to begin. Christ, at this point I don’t even know where to begin a relationship with a female, and now that I think of it, I’m pretty scared of that, too.
But by this point in my life, I know that my attraction to males is not going away, and maybe I’d be a better person if I fulfilled my fantasies. Still, they’re so vague.
Mostly I’m attracted to boys around 17, 18, 19 or so – maybe older now that I’m getting older: slim, straight-looking, somewhat muscular boys. All my exercising is an attempt to make myself into one of those collegiate jocks, although with my pot belly and acne, it doesn’t seem to work.
How come I have acne at 24? And why do I dress like these boys, in colored T-shirts and cutoff jeans and white athletic socks and sneakers? Everybody dresses similarly these days, but I could have chosen another variation of the look: say, sandals and other accessories.
Yet I never fantasize about having sex with these boys; so far it’s always been just a general pleasant feeling when I look at their bodies, their shoulders and biceps, their chests, flat stomachs, lean legs, etc.
Or else there’s a sadomasochistic fantasy of getting beaten up by one of these boys. It’s a fantasy I’ve had since I was a kid. I was not in many fights, but I never minded getting into a fight and sometimes I would try to provoke one. I still fantasize about going to a playground and trying to goad a (cute) guy into fighting me.
But in reality, just saying “Oh yeah?” in a tough-guy way as a kid didn’t provoke other guys to fight me. In the only fight I ever had at school, I was so angry that I knocked poor Alvin Gelson out with one punch to the jaw, and even when I saw him lying there, looking dazed and helpless, I was still angry.
That was a side of me I don’t show anyone; I can’t believe I got so enraged, and I can’t even remember what Alvin did or said that made me hit him so hard. After we became friendly, we pretended it never happened, and I’ve never told anyone about it.
It’s hard to try to get beaten up when you’re angry enough to get into a real fight. The only time I purposely lost a fight, I was 14 and was thrilled to get a (faint) black eye from a 12-year-old in one of the many “for fun” boxing matches I had at the beach that summer.
Weirdly, even though I was tiny and skinny and wore glasses and was “nervous,” nobody ever picked on me my whole childhood. Maybe it was because I was friendly with everyone, but it could also have been that other boys could sense I was more than happy to fight them. Some of them in school probably remembered seeing me deck Alvin.
I can’t understand why this fantasy of a fight has always excited me, but it’s good to be open about these things. Maybe fighting was the only way I could “safely” get physically close to other boys? It’s not anymore, I guess.
But it may not be that uncommon. At Cousin Scott’s bar mitzvah, when I was about 16, I remember sitting next to the grandson of my grandparents’ friends, the Goldsteins. He kept telling me about his being on the wrestling team and wanted us to go into the men’s room, take off our suits and ties, and have a wrestling match. I just laughed, but it felt exciting.
I’m glad I wrote this tonight, instead of an account of what I did today, because it wasn’t precipitated by feelings or depression or an anxiety attack.
No, I’m feeling pretty good and I want to stay that way, so I need to be honest. Maybe I’ve only scratched the surface of the real me, even after all the therapy I’ve had. I am a writer; I want to ask myself hard questions.