A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, July 12, 1975
It’s a drizzly afternoon. I feel as though I’ve got so much to do: my French homework, my daily exercises, my writing.
Last evening I went to get some of my stuff xeroxed, had dinner at Bun n’ Burger and then came home to spend the evening writing. I’m really into my April 1972 diary and I hate to stop work on it now, but other things come first.
When my French course ends next month, I can give my fiction more time. Still, I could use an extra four hours a day.
Yesterday Dad brought home his new blue Cadillac. It’s a handsome car, and I hope it rides better than the last one.
The other night I spoke to Gary, who’s really finding teaching a challenge. He’s disappointed that several of his students have dropped the course, complaining that he’s too hard.
Gary’s finding out what I discovered last spring: that you grow into a teaching job. He can’t believe he’s doing the things he is doing, and I think that his St. John’s class will ultimately be a great experience for him.
When I called Mikey, he was working on his thesis. He’s kind of disgusted with himself because it’s going so slowly, especially since he’s got an intensive Law Boards course coming up.
Mikey said he got drunk for the first time at Stevie and Robin’s wedding: he had five Tom Collinses, and Mike and Cindy had to drive him home to Rockaway. The next morning he had a bad headache but no real hangover.
Mikey said it was a nice wedding, and he, Mike, Cindy and Larry all enjoyed themselves. Mike was over at the beach last weekend, and while they were playing ball, Mike severely sprained his pinky.
I think Mike is accident-prone. A few days later, he was rushing upstairs to get the other phone when he tripped and broke his toe. I remember how Mike used to trip and fall all the time.
Mikey took a day off from work at John Jay this week to write his thesis at the Brooklyn College library, and the only people he ran into were Vito and Elayne. Marty and Ruth were in last week, and Marty told Mikey a cute story.
It seems nobody’s heard from Casey for months when all of a sudden Bob Miller gets a call from Casey out of the blue.
After a few minutes of small talk, Casey asked, “Did you hear about my promotion at the SEC?” and then Bob, finally understanding the reason for the call, said, “No, Casey, it didn’t make the papers up here.”
That’s Casey, all right.
Marty mentioned to Mikey that no one has heard from Steve Katz, but I told Mikey that Hal and Ivy had visited Steve and Paula in Chapel Hill.
This morning I went to Rockaway to visit Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. Grandpa Herb was really full of pep today as he told me some more interesting stories about his Army days in Manila, and about my great-grandfather, whom I would have loved to meet.
Born in Riga, Latvia, Zayde Isidore was an atheist, a leftist, a radical, a vegetarian, a lover of literature (Emile Zola, Balzac), a violinist and a chess player. He was a graduate of gymnasium, which was a big deal in those days for Jews in Russia.
Grandpa Herb said that when his father had stomach cancer, nobody told him. At his bedside, Grandpa Herb said, “Pop, you’re going to be all right,” and his father uncovered himself, revealing his shriveled-up legs.
“Look at these matchsticks,” the old man said. “And then tell me you can say I’m going to be all right? Look, I loved life, it was beautiful, but if you have to die, you must not be afraid . . . ”
I stayed at my grandparents’ until 1 PM, when Aunt Claire, Uncle Sidney and Great-Grandma Bessie came to pick them up so they could all visit Uncle Jerry in Bellmore. Great-Grandma Bessie looked very well, considering that the last time I saw her, she appeared to be at the point of death.
Claire and Sidney are here for the summer, staying at the old house on Ocean Parkway that Sidney’s family still owns, the first place I lived as a baby, directly across from the house of Vito Genovese, the model for Don Corleone in The Godfather.
Claire and Sid can’t take the summer heat in Florida. Before we all left, Grandpa Herb gave me my cousins’ addresses at camp; I wrote them short letters tonight.
Driving back home through Belle Harbor, I spotted Stacy on the Boulevard and gave her a lift to a friend’s house in Brooklyn.
Stacy said she’s collecting unemployment now, not doing too much. She plans to go to the CUNY Grad Center in the fall although she wants to move out and the money situation is very tight.
Stacy said she had lived for a while in New Jersey with her girlfriend, the one she likes so much, but her friend started having an affair with a fiftyish married man with children, and Stacy couldn’t take that because of her own experience with her father’s affairs.
We made tentative plans to see each other one of these days and I gave her a peck on the cheek as I dropped her off.
Back at home, I found a change of address note from Teresa. She and Ted found a house in Palo Alto; she’s happy but a bit homesick for New York.
Monday, July 14, 1975
While washing my face just now, my reflection in the mirror looked handsome. Of course I didn’t have my glasses on.
This evening I went over to Josh’s to see him before he takes off for California on Wednesday. Driving around while looking for a parking space, I saw this teenage girl with the best set of breasts I’ve seen in a long time.
She was wearing a danskin, which is enough to drive me crazy anyway (I think women look their best in danskins), but her breasts seemed almost perfect: round, high and firm.
“I’m in love,” I said dreamily to Josh as I entered his apartment. He knew the girl I was speaking of; she lives upstairs from him.
He and Bob are taking a noon flight to San Francisco on Wednesday; first they’re going to stay at this woman’s place in Santa Cruz. Josh said he may spend a half-hour there or two weeks there, depending.
From Josh’s description, the woman sounds adorable, if slightly fucked-up (but who isn’t?). She doesn’t like guys to come in her mouth, which Josh thought was weird, but I can’t blame her for that: I don’t want anyone coming in my mouth, either.
Leo, of whom Josh has spoken often, arrived straight from work at Starrett City, the new housing project near the Belt Parkway. Leo dropped out of Queens College and is doing construction work at Starrett City because his father, the vice president of the company, got him the job.
While Josh was cooking the spaghetti for their dinner (I had eaten at home: Mom’s pepper steak), Leo took out some hash and we smoked. Leo and I did, anyway; Josh always abstains.
Josh and Leo must be friends for a long time, as Leo knows Vinnie, who hasn’t spoken to Josh in a month.
Leslie is the reason Vinnie’s mad at Josh. Remember that day when I ran into Josh in the rain and drove him to Leslie’s apartment? Well, Vinnie heard about it and got the wrong idea.
Leo, who seems like a real nice guy, wants to move to California and set up some kind of business there, a business where he doesn’t have to work too hard and which will enable him to live as he chooses.
I must have gotten a bit stoned, because when Leo said the phrase “. . . to live as I choose,” I thought he said “. . . to live as a Jew.”
Anyway, I left at about 10 PM, telling Josh to have a great time out on the Coast; the only thing that might upset him is that he’s going to pick up his sister’s belongings. But he should have a good time: he won’t be back until the second week of September.
I woke up early this morning, feeling pressure in my sinuses. It’s like monsoon season here, with rain every day and flash floods in the Jersey suburbs.
I made the now-familiar trek to 42nd Street and arrived early, as usual. Miss Belfer is going very quickly: today we did a lot of translating and went over all the compound tenses.
I enjoy our breaks in the Graduate Center cafeteria. Today Miss Belfer talked about sitting in the bar of the Raleigh Hotel when some doofus file clerk for the Welfare Department came over and asked for her number. She told him that she moves around a lot and that she’d better take his number instead.
I came home at 2PM, and after lunch I worked for over an hour on my homework, translating the first chapter of Candide. I enjoy having some fluidity in French, and oddly enough, after over seven years, my high-school Spanish is coming back.
Marc has been feeling better and he went over to visit Bunny today. Mom was upset that he was gone so long on such a miserable day and by the fact that he was probably kissing Bunny and possibly re-infecting himself.
I ran into Henry today and waved to him; he gave me a ‘hello’ and somewhat suspicious look. I feel awkward with him, knowing how chummy he is with Ronna. Or, I should say, knowing how close he is with Ronna.
It’s not the extent of their romantic relationship, if any, that bothers me; it’s the possibility that Ronna may often confide in him about me and that maybe he knows why Ronna is angry with me. It’s been four whole weeks since I last spoke to Ronna.
Thursday, July 17, 1975
11 PM. I’ve just had three oatmeal cookies and a can of Yoo-Hoo, the Chocolate Flavored Action Drink. What more can a man ask for on a hot summer night?
This afternoon Gary called and said he was going to play a game called Star Power with his class this evening, and he wondered if I wanted to come along to assist him.
“I’d love to,” I told him, as I was bored sitting outside in the sun, doing nothing constructive after I had finished my French homework; I couldn’t come up with any ideas for writing.
So, at 4 PM, I went over to Kings Plaza and had dinner at Bun ‘n’ Burger. It reminded me of all the times I used to eat there before going to Richmond College.
I miss Richmond. In a couple of months or less, I’ll have taken the language exam and then I’ll officially get my master’s. It occurred to me that the reason it took so long for me to get around to the thesis and the language exam was that a part of me did not want to give up being a part of Richmond College.
Suddenly, sitting at the counter of Bun ‘n’ Burger, I got these terrific goosebumps and chills; I remember feeling the same way when they played the school song at my junior high school graduation.
A flood of emotions swept over me, and I thought of my undergraduate days, Shelli, Ronna, my various jobs, teaching at LIU, graduate classes at Richmond and Brooklyn, talks with Avis and Leon, sessions with Mrs. Ehrlich and the Wouks.
And I realized that all of my creative writing has one common thread: the idea of separation and loss. It’s like that quote from Lawrence’s letter to Huxley after he read Point Counter Point, a quote I used in my “Psychopathology” story: “Well, caro, I feel like saying good-bye to you; but one will have to go on saying good-bye for a long time.”
Because I thought I might get diarrhea, I bought Kaopectate in the mall, but I had no need of it. I drove to Queens and parked on the St. John’s campus, which really is beautiful.
Somehow I always feel at home on a college campus, be it St. John’s or LIU or Brooklyn or Richmond or Queens or the Graduate Center or Columbia.
When I got some soda in the cafeteria, I noticed the campus was pretty deserted. From the few people who were there, I could tell the school must be dominated by Catholic jocks and fraternity men (and the men’s room graffiti confirmed this).
Huffing and puffing in the sweltering heat, I finally found Gary’s office. After waiting for the student who had come there to see him to leave, I accompanied Gary to the building where his class meets.
The game went well, and it was interesting to see how the students unconsciously began acting out the roles of their assigned social strata. We gave them chips, but the game was rigged so that one group would be dominant and wealthy, one poor and powerless, and the other in the middle.
It would have been nice to see how the game would have continued, but of course Gary had only the two hours of class. He has nine very nice students, and of course I wished they were my own class. I can see that Gary’s doing a really fine job, feeling his way about.
Tonight made me see how much I love teaching. I can’t even dare to hope that Dr. Farber will have work for me this fall. It was 8 PM when the class broke up, and I followed Gary home on the parkway. Gary is such a great guy. I know I’m often bored with him, but as for being a friend, he really can’t be beat.
Today was the first sunny day in a week, and I spent a couple of hours reviving my suntan, both on the beach and by our swimming pool.
I feel this great need to love someone: not to be loved or to make love, but to know a person I could focus all my love upon. There are times when I need to hug someone so much.
But I don’t like feeling sorry for myself; I can focus my energies in other directions, into my writing, my schoolwork, the friends that I do have.
This afternoon I watched the joint U.S.-Soviet space flight on TV. The Apollo and Soyuz ships linked up in orbit around the earth.
Later, I was outside reading when I began playing with some of the neighborhood children, in particular two little four-year-olds who came up to the porch. I’d make a bad father, but I’d be an outasight uncle.
Saturday, July 19, 1975
3 PM on a hot, sunny day. I’m staying out of the sun for a few days, as I don’t want to get too dark. The man at the health food store this morning said I was “as dark as a coon.” (Before telling me this, I could see he made a quick check to see that there were no black customers about.)
I had lunch at Alice’s house. She and Andreas are going to Switzerland this Friday; they’ll stay there ten days, and Alice will not go visit her brother in Stuttgart this summer.
Over iced tea and cantaloupe, Alice filled me in on the latest details of her life. Last night, when she and Andreas left their apartment, the landlord refused to give them back their $100 security deposit because he said they had made the place look garish with all their painting, like the picture of a cat on a fireplace. But they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to keep renting the apartment.
Alice told Kurt she didn’t want to see him again. He was kind of upset, but finally he told her that if she ever got horny, she had his number. Actually, Kurt may have come over after I left. The Connors’ TV set was broken and Alice called the repair store where Kurt works.
Her adventures with Mr. Rapp have continued. On Monday morning, he showed up at her house with two containers of coffee, plopping himself down at the kitchen table until Alice screamed that he should wait outside because her mother was parading around in her nightgown and didn’t know what was going on. (I guess for once it was a good thing Mrs. Connors is deaf.)
Mr. Rapp assumed that Alice and he could stay at her house or at the East 46th Street apartment, but Alice said no; she felt too guilty to go to the place she was sharing with Andreas. (But not guilty enough not to do it with Mr. Rapp.)
She assumed Mr. Rapp had a place for them to go, but he didn’t, so they ended up on a blanket at Canarsie Pier Park at 10 AM. They didn’t consummate their relationship but they “did a lot of nice things.”
Alice said she discovered that the more a guy screws around and is a stud, the more insecure he is. Both Kurt and Mr. Rapp were that way: Rapp kept saying, “You’re bored, I know it. . . Did I do this all right?. . . Did you like that?” while Alice was perfectly happy all the time.
He even asked Alice to rate him on a scale of one to ten, and when Alice jokingly said four, the guy looked crushed. Alice really likes him, though, and it’s possible they may get it on after her return from Switzerland.
Alice has such a way with telling stories. She ended up with two hickeys, one from Kurt and one from Mr. Rapp, and felt very embarrassed by them. “But luckily,” Alice said, “Andreas doesn’t know what a hickey is.”
Today I got a long letter from Avis. She says that she and Helmut tell people that they have this friend in America who’s a writer; that makes me feel great. Helmut said he didn’t believe it when I said in my last letter that I’d rather write than screw; I’m not sure I believe what I wrote myself.
Avis is reading all of Virginia Woolf’s novels and she’s really getting into them. She has been thinking a lot about her childhood and thinks that maybe she’s in the process of becoming a person, that things are changing in her head and that she’s moving toward “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
She expressed perfectly my philosophy about The Age of Possibilities: “What is so beautiful about being on this world is that you can go anywhere and find different lifestyles and cultures and values. At least I’m not limited to a few things.”
She hates her job at the ice cream store, where she scoops out vanilla, chocolate and Waldmeister (?) ice cream for cones all day, and they take so much money out of her paycheck that she’ll never see again unless she spends her retirement in Germany.
Helmut got fired from his job, but if he can get unemployment insurance, they may go down to Greece with Bernd and his girlfriend in a VW bus.
Helmut’s parents would wire him if there is a place for him at the University; otherwise, he and Avis would stay in Greece until October, when she would fly back to the States for a visit.
Avis hasn’t written to Scott and doesn’t think she will. After nearly a year apart, I can’t wait to see Avis again, but these letters make me feel closer to her.
Sunday, July 20, 1975
In my head I keep hearing the lyrics to a song from one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off:
What kind of fool am I
Who never fell in love
It seems that I’m the only one
That I have been thinking of
What kind of mind is this
An empty shell, etc.
Today it struck me: Why have I chosen this life for myself, a second-hand life in the suburbs of passion? It’s exactly six years since the moon landing, six years since Chappaquiddick, six years since my depression began to lift.
I can remember where I was and how I felt on another Sunday exactly six years ago today. What have I gained since then? This life of mine, a life on the sidelines, observing life as if it were a spectator sport.
Sometimes I think I’m only here to observe and to ruminate and to write. “I vegetate while other people merely live” was a funny aphorism, but the joke is turning against me.
It’s lonely to go to a movie in Manhattan by yourself on a Friday night. And yet – and yet – I don’t know if I would trade places with any of those couples sitting around me.
What happened today was this: I was driving in Rockaway, to Mikey’s house, waiting for the car in front of me to cross the street. He went out too quickly and had to hesitate as a car was coming by: from the car, I saw Ivan making an obscene gesture.
For a second, I thought Ivan was telling me to go fuck myself, but then I realized he meant it for the hesitating driver in front of me and that Ivan hadn’t seen me at all.
I followed Ivan’s car but couldn’t catch up with it; he turned into his driveway with Vicky on the passenger seat. But I wanted to see them, so I parked my car in the Riis Park parking lot and went to the beach by Ivan’s block.
But they weren’t on the beach, so I just lay on the sand, reading Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a fabulous book that I had dreamed about all night. Nabokov is a genius beyond belief.
A few feet away from me, there was a girl with three friends. She had the cutest body I’d ever seen: she was short and a little chubby, but her stomach was smooth and firm. And when she took off her jeans, she had creamy, gorgeous legs. And her breasts were big and round, and she was very pretty.
I kept staring at her, but she never took any notice of me. I even had the crazy thought of just going over to her and telling her how sexy she was. I really liked the way she ate an Oreo cookie, unscrewing it first and then slowly licking off the cream.
But of course, I made no move. To her, I was invisible.
Eventually Ivan and Vicky appeared on the beach, and I was going to go over to say hi to them, but I was so intent on watching them, I didn’t move.
And I was glad of that, too, for I watched as they walked down to the water: they held hands, then Ivan made a mock-grab for Vicky and she started to race him and he caught up with her and they slowed their pace as he put his arm around her shoulder.
They looked so happy, even from a distance. And I thought of myself as a voyeur, someone who gets pleasure only out of other people’s lives. I live vicariously through Avis and Helmut, and Alice, and Shelli and Jerry, and all the people I write about.
I felt so stupid and irrelevant. Finally I did go over to Ivan and Vicky but we didn’t have much to say to each other besides “Hello,” “What’s doing?” and “Not much.”
I wondered if they knew that I followed them and they think I’m crazy. Or perhaps I’m too insignificant for them to give me a second thought. But one positive thing came out of seeing them up close.
For years, from when I’d first met him through Shelli, and then knowing him as Ronna’s longtime ex-boyfriend, I had invested Ivan with a sort of superstar aura, and today I saw that basically he’s just an ordinary guy.
He is nice-looking but he’s not a Greek god. I even realized that I have bigger muscles than he does, and I was tan and he was pale. So it’s not a case of me being a weak, ugly intellectual who can’t compete with him or do the things he does.
No, it’s a role I’ve consciously chosen for myself: to always be the friend and never the lover, always a supporting player and never the leading man, always the character actor and never the star, always the voice of reason and never passion.
Maybe I have more free will than I’d prefer to believe.