A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, June 2, 1991
7 PM. Although I left here at 5:30 PM yesterday, I waited till after 6 PM for the Q35, and at Riis Park, a ton of beachgoers, mostly minority people, squeezed on.
It took me till 7:15 PM to reach Park Slope. At President Street, Larry answered my doorbell ring and came down to let me in. He’d figured out that Justin was making him a surprise party.
I hugged both Larry and Justin and said hi to the other guests, who included Justin’s old roommates Ben – my old roommate, too – and Fred, both of whom I always enjoy seeing.
Fred has been living in London the past three months and he’s in New York for just the weekend on his way to a Phoenix conference sponsored by Intel, which bought the company he works for.
Fred’s currently living in a rented flat in Kensington but plans to move to Oxford, which is closer to where his office is.
There are the usual complications getting a visa – Fred’s a Canadian citizen – but once Fred’s comes through, he can bring all his stuff to England. He likes it there, and I asked him a lot about it.
One thing I think I dislike about Europe is that they’re still not very health-conscious: everyone continues to smoke, and in England the food, except for the curry and East Indian and West Indian stuff, is dreadful.
The recession is still bad in England, and Fred sees a lot of homeless teenagers, but he feels safe anywhere he goes – unlike in America.
Ben replied that he feels safe wherever he goes in New York City but admitted he probably shouldn’t. He said he liked to think that in this respect, being a black man is an advantage.
While I doubt that, I certainly don’t feel as safe as I used to.
In a way, I’m thrilled to be going to a town of 85,000 like Gainesville, which apart from your rare serial killer, is probably fairly safe.
One of the biggest adjustments will be getting used to being around so many white Anglos. Together, the minority student population at UF is only 10% of the total, and I’m used to New York City, South Florida, Los Angeles and other urban areas, where despite the turmoil, I like the mix of people from all over the world.
Anyway, back to the party:
Justin had prepared quite a spread. I tried to behave myself, indulging only with appetite aforethought – as when I had a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie made by one of the middle-aged women who rent Larry the studio where he does his art. Like most of the guests, they were very interesting.
I saw some familiar faces, like that married couple in book publishing whose names I always forget. They told me they’d spent the day at the ABA convention at the Javits Center.
And Veronica, the actress/teacher, whom I know from readings of Justin’s plays, was there with her video artist husband Bill.
Ali came very late. She’s still doing adjunct work at CUNY and was interested in my decision to go to law school because she’s considering doing the same thing.
I also saw Randy, who lives uptown – I went with him, Ben, Larry and Justin to see The Accidental Tourist a few years ago – and met some other nice gay guys.
Larry, Randy and their friends James and Mark go to a men’s discussion group on Monday nights at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center. It’s one of about a dozen different groups there that deal with the issues of identity, relationships and what Larry called “unfinished business.”
I’d love to get into something like that because I need to deal with similar stuff. I especially need to work on all the homophobia I’ve internalized.
It was good to spend time talking with other gay men. Maybe in Gainesville, I can join some gay group.
Mark, a 25-year-old nurse, was telling me about his friend who’s 18 and an Amherst student. The guy has been so radicalized by campus gay groups that when he came for a visit, he accused Mark – who’s about is open and uncloseted as I can imagine being – of being both a “bi-phobe” (a new term for everyone who heard it last night) and of course, a “self-hating homosexual” (similar to the ever-popular “self-hating Jew”).
Most of the guys agreed with Mark’s contention that his young friend’s wearing a QUEER BOY t-shirt around the Upper East Side was immature and possibly self-destructive: “It’s like wearing a KICK ME sign,” James, Mark’s best friend, said.
I thought Mark was nice although I was taken a bit aback when he mentioned that his parents were only a few years older than I.
I also spoke to another guy I liked, John, though I never figured out how he knows Larry and Justin. All in all, there were about 30 people in the apartment, with some coming in very late.
At first, I told myself I’d just stay until the birthday cake. But I’ve been more starved for company than food, and I didn’t leave till after most people had gone, sometime after 11:30 PM.
Before I left, Larry and Justin took me into the bedroom and gave me a joke birthday gift, a book entitled Strange Sex Lives in the Animal Kingdom.
Since it had cooled off, I went into the bathroom and changed from a tank top and shorts to a sport shirt and jeans, and then I said goodbye to everyone who was still around.
Fred said to get his British address from Justin and invited me to visit him for a couple of weeks – an offer I may shock him by accepting.
As we were saying goodbye, Ben said he remembered seeing me on TV commenting on the 2 Live Crew verdict. The local WNBC affiliate must have aired that the piece that WSVN/7 did with me after the jury found Charlie Freeman guilty, when I was ranting about Russia being freer than the U.S. because As Nasty As They Wanna Be could be sold there.
James and Mark drove me to Flatbush Avenue, and when I saw a southbound B41 bus coming, I hopped aboard, figuring I’d feel safer on it than on a subway. (As usual, I was the sole white passenger.)
As we passed the Junction, I didn’t see a Rockaway bus or anyone waiting at the bus stop. That neighborhood isn’t good enough for me to feel comfortable standing there alone after midnight, so I got off at Kings Highway when I saw a Hispanic woman and her baby and a black teenager waiting at the Rockaway bus stop by Avenue L.
They were concerned that since we’d apparently missed the midnight bus from the Junction, we’d have to wait until after 1 AM – or worse, that the Q35 might have stopped running for the night.
After waiting for half an hour, I became a bit anxious, and I walked back down to Kings Highway, where I managed to get a car service guy on his way to pick up another fare.
Since his intended fare was $13 and he charged me $18 plus tolls to go to Rockaway, he said it was worth his while to pick me up instead. I ended up shelling out over $25, including tip, but at least I got taken to the front door of the building and was home by 1 AM.
Today was sunny, cooler and drier, but I mostly stayed in, reading the Times getting up to July 1986 in my diary book, doing laundry, and trying to tell if a toothache is going to get worse.
I’ve been putting off dental care for lack of funds, and since I know UF has a dentistry school, I figure I can get care there when I’m in Gainesville.
Monday, June 3, 1991
8 PM. Obviously ABC-TV knew what it was doing when it showed the final episode of Thirtysomething last Tuesday. They couldn’t put the show on tomorrow night because tonight is my last night as a thirtysomething. How’s that for narcissism?
Also tonight, NBC Nightly News had a segment on baby boomers in the ‘90s. Trends include healthy eating (that’s certainly me, though I doubt one woman’s claim that carrot juice will become “the margarita of the decade”), convenience foods (how did I ever live without a microwave?), an emphasis on kiddie products (there I’m atypical, unless I buy them for myself; after all, life does begin at 40), and roomier Levis (once again I’m an exception: my 30-inch waist is a lot trimmer than it was when I was 30 or 35).
My quintessential turning-40 story concerns the toothache that I’ve had off and on since late Saturday night.
At 3 PM, I put down the newspaper and decided I’d better try to see a dentist in case I was facing an abscess or some dental disaster.
Not only did the dentist on Beach 116th Street answer the phone himself, but he also told me to come right over. With kids growing up with fluoride, I guess now dentists are as lonely as Maytag repairmen. Anyway, he looked and prodded, and then shut the overhead light.
“I could take an x-ray if you want,” he said, “but it’s pretty obvious what this is. It’s very common among older people.”
My gums are receding – not as visible an insult as a receding hairline, which I thankfully don’t have, but it causes exposed areas unprotected by enamel to be hypersensitive.
He gave me a toothpaste that I’d always associated with middle age and said the problem will either clear up or I’ll live with it.
At least he was kind enough not to charge me for bringing to my attention physical proof that at 40, I’m getting decrepit.
I couldn’t stop chuckling the entire walk along Rockaway Beach Boulevard home. My vanity at looking young and being healthy and lean and strong and smart is embarrassing when I’ve practically been told, “Lay off the citrus fruit, Grandpa!”
(I had one Spanish orange left, and I ate it tonight in a ritual of saying farewell to my youth.)
Last evening Ronna called to tell me to meet at her apartment at 6:30 PM tomorrow, and she said we could do anything I wanted for my birthday.
She and Ralph spent the weekend in Philadelphia, where her sister turned 35 yesterday and looks great, having lost weight and begun an exercise program.
I fell asleep early and slept well, having a dream in which I got a letter from BCC, from Dr. Grasso, wanting to know why I “thought long and hard” about a grade I’d given a student named Richard Grayson since records showed he had never attended my class.
I ended up giving him a W for withdrawal, but Dr. Grasso thought I’d failed him because he was the cousin of another student. Back in Florida, I felt intimidated by Dr. Grasso but decided to say that I had only been joking when I told her that I’d “thought long and hard” over assigning Richard Grayson a grade.
Boy, is that dream obvious, or what?
Up at 6 AM, I was out of the apartment by 9 AM and at the Woodmere home an hour later.
Grandma Ethel had just taken her semiweekly shower, which tired her out, and she lay in bed during the visit. She again complained again about her mouth.
I brought Grandma the slacks I’d bought for her at Macy’s and she kept asking me why I’d spent “so much money” ($5) to have the hems fixed.
Unlike me, Grandma isn’t keeping careful track of her age, because I had to tell her she was 81, not 82 as she’s been thinking.
Of course, I’ve been telling everyone I’m 40 for nearly a year, figuring tomorrow would be less traumatic that way.
When I got home, the phone rang. It was Sat Darshan, who invited me to go with her to a party at some woman’s Gramercy Park apartment on Saturday night.
Because we’d get back late, she said I could stay over at her place in Brooklyn; the kids always sleep in her bed anyway.
We talked about Justin’s party for Larry on Saturday, Rose Judson’s funeral last November, Mikey’s impending divorce, and other stuff.
When I returned from the dentist, the phone rang once again just as I was opening the door. It was Josh. He hasn’t gotten word from the city about layoffs yet, told me he’d seen the galleys for the first of two children’s books by Denis (there’s my role model: an attorney/author/art gallery owner), and advised me to call Todd, who hasn’t published anything lately and who feels like a failure.
I told both Josh and Sat Darshan about the apartment I’ve taken in Gainesville; maybe if I talk about it enough, it will seem real to me.
My parents sent a card:
Son, we’ve given you some static
[Mom and Dad dogs trying to fix a TV set for Puppy]
Even blown a fuse or two. . .
But we hope the picture’s clear by now
[Fixed TV screen says:]
We think the world of you!
Mom & Dad
And there were two $20 bills enclosed.
A nice, appropriate card; I’ll call them later.
I got a call from someone at Avis. Apparently I owe them $100 that was not reimbursed by American Express from my accident at Kennedy Airport one year and one day ago.
Paying that leaves me with only $600 in the bank, but I figure that since I totaled their rental car and escaped nearly unhurt, the money hardly matters.
Actually, surviving that accident exhilarated me, and I’m sure it had something to do with my thinking up the Trump Rescue Fund and Radio Free Broward that week.
I plan to leave for Manhattan at 11 AM tomorrow, have lunch with Mikey, and spend my birthday wandering around the city until Ronna gets home from work.
Wednesday, June 5, 1991
3 PM. I had a fine fortieth birthday yesterday. The weather changed drastically, and it turned rainy and chilly.
When Alice called to wish me a happy day and to make arrangements for Friday, I told her I’d meet her in the lobby of the St. George by the Clark Street subway station at 6 PM.
Felling like getting out of the house early, I left at 10:30 AM with my bag of clothes, food, eye stuff and drugs. (I’ve used the same moth-eaten blue Sportsac since 1988.) I made it to downtown Manhattan by noon.
By then the sun had come out, and since I had an hour to kill, I walked up and down Broadway from City Hall Park to the Battery and back.
It had been a long time since I’d been around Wall Street, but I liked seeing the crowds of business people, street vendors selling hot dogs and hot videotapes and comic books, out-of-work actors giving free samples of the new Häagen-Dazs frozen yogurt, and a camera crew above a building, filming a promo for next Monday’s “Welcome Home, Gulf Troops” parade.
At the cemetery by Trinity Church, I noticed most of the tombstones were of people who lived less than forty years – some a lot less – but those were people from 200 years ago, of course.
Mikey looked thin and Yuppified in red suspenders and that yellow tie everyone used to wear years ago; if I kept up with fashion, I might actually know if he was stylish or behind the times. On the other hand, Mikey is probably the best-dressed of my male friends.
We had lunch at Ottomanelli Cafe. I didn’t press for details about his divorce, but he said Amy had expected “perfection” and was dissatisfied with anything less. “In some ways we were well-matched,” Mikey said, “but in other ways we were opposites.”
On a blind date a month ago, he met Nora, a 46-year-old, 5’10” (Mikey is my height) assistant to Liz Holtzman, who’s now Controller, and they’ve been seeing each other since then.
He hates the boxy $850 studio he’s subletting and tries to stay out of the apartment as much as possible, although he’s got it till next May. His job is okay, but because of the separation and upcoming divorce, he had to put off plans to start a private practice.
Business is bad, and even Mikey’s state job might be imperiled by budget cuts. In any case, he’s got no hope of advancement or even a raise in the near future.
Mikey said he found legal education to be “intellectually dishonest,” and his first year of law school was hard: “You have to learn how to read and think in a different way, and the professors can be brutal, and sometimes you won’t have a clue as to what is going on.”
But he admitted that I’ve always liked school more than he did and said I might not dislike the experience.
As I was leaving, I told him to visit me in Rockaway, an invitation to which he seemed receptive.
I took the A train to Columbus Circle and the 1 train to 79th, where I got some Korean salad bar that I ate on a bench by Margaret Mead Green outside the planetarium. (I remember once going with Gary to a class he was taking at Columbia with Margaret Mead, who lectured brilliantly.)
It started raining again as I finished eating, so I ducked inside the American Museum of Natural History, which I never once visited in all the years I lived a few blocks away.
Spurred by Mom’s and Jonathan’s interest in birds, I spent a lot of time in the bird exhibits and then caught North American Mammals and Eskimos before going in to the 4:30 PM showing of The Blue Planet, a large-screen film with great shots of the earth from space.
On Amsterdam Avenue, I had some TCBY, and then at Shakespeare & Company, I spent time looking through the new books and little magazines. (The Review of Contemporary Fiction put my chapbooks on their “Books Received” list.)
There are so many good books published that it makes me feel lucky to have had the success I did. That’s a better attitude than my sometimes paranoid dejection over my work not being more widely recognized. After all, though I may be a good writer, many people are terrific writers.
It felt odd being around my old West Side haunts. As I walked up Broadway, I noted that the variety store run by Arabs that I used to go to has closed, that diet Tasti D-Lites has replaced Mrs. Field’s Cookies (a sign of the times?), and that The Boulevard on West 86th, unable to sell its co-ops, is attempting to rent them.
Ronna looked good when she opened the door; her hair was up and it was a little grayer.
Over sparking water, we chatted. She told me about Ralph, who’s 42, works for the Human Resources Administration monitoring contracts, is a CCNY grad who was active in socialist/labor/Zionist activities, and is the editor of Israel Horizons, a magazine I looked at while Ronna was on the phone.
Ralph writes well, and after reading of his parents’ horrific odyssey out of Poland through hostile nations like Greece, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, I can understand why he’s a Zionist – but he’s a very progressive one.
He’d like to write for The New Republic or work for the National Endowment for Democracy, and he seems like a really intelligent guy.
Ralph lives only a couple of blocks away, in his parents’ old rent-controlled place, and his widowed mother, still vibrant at 80, is in Florida most of the year.
Ronna wants me to meet him and also her friend David, the Yeshiva University assistant dean with whom she often goes to the theater.
At first David seemed to be coming on to her, but after a few months he told Ronna he was just coming out. It must be hard to be gay at an Orthodox school. Anyway, he happened to see my photo and thought I was cute.
Ronna’s family is well. Her sister and brother-in-law have a nice townhouse in northwest Philadelphia, and Sue looks fantastic. She was always a sharp dresser, but now she can wear stuff that she couldn’t wear when she was much heavier.
Billy and Melissa will be returning to Gainesville, in August, so at least I’ll know somebody in town.
Ronna’s mother is coming for the weekend to New York; she just got a part-time job doing merchandising, similar to what she did for Richardson-Vicks, and Beatrice hopes it will lead to a full-time position, even if the product is baseball cards.
Ronna and I had a great dinner at Empire Szechuan Gourmet, and I liked being around Manhattan people and overhearing the conversations of academics, dancers and video artists at nearby tables in the crowded restaurant.
Ronna insisted on paying for both dinner and the movie we saw afterwards (Soapdish, funny, at the Paramount) and even the fare back and forth from Columbus Circle.
The film began didn’t begin till 10 PM, so we walked around Lincoln Center beforehand. It was past midnight when we got home.
Once she got a pile of her clothes on the floor out of the way – her room is still knee deep with stuff; I recognized a frog beanbag I must have given her around 1974 – Ronna made up the futon for me. We chatted till she fell asleep in her bed.
I was dizzy and didn’t drift off till maybe 3 AM and I woke up at 7 AM. While Ronna took a shower, I had breakfast – I’d brought with me packets of oatmeal, grits and cocoa – and talked with Leah, who came in this morning, having spent the night at her boyfriend’s.
In the 96th Street station, I kissed Ronna thanks as she went to the uptown train to Yeshiva and I caught the downtown.
A couple of hours later, I was back home in Rockaway, where I exercised, showered, and dressed. I told Josh I wasn’t up to coming into the city tomorrow, so I’ll call him next week.
Thursday, June 6, 1991
8 PM. I didn’t get too many pages into One L last evening, but it was far enough so that I had anxiety dreams about law school. I’m terrified that the experience will be as filled with dread, anxiety and intensity as that which Turow describes.
His Contracts professor sounds very much like The Paper Chase’s Professor Kingsfield, and I don’t know how I’ll hold up in such a classroom environment. While I’ve always performed well in school, I’ve never tested myself in a high-powered environment before, either.
I know the University of Florida isn’t Harvard – and probably Harvard Law School isn’t the same as it was sixteen years ago, in Turow’s time – but I’m worried about the trial by fire that is the first year of law school.
Yes, I could say for me that law school isn’t a life-and-death matter; it’s not as if all my hopes and dreams are riding on a legal career. I’m more concerned with survival: emotional survival, that is. It’ll be hard just moving to Gainesville.
Will I be able to withstand the pressures of learning how to think in a different way? Will I become a different, unrecognizable person? What if I’m humiliated in class?
Well, for one thing, I’m probably not as concerned with my status at law school as Turow was. Although I always did well in school, I was never a “star” and I doubt I’ll do better than be in the middle of my law school class.
I do try to do my best, within reason, but I know from writing, teaching and computer programming that perfectionism impedes success and isn’t worth the cost.
I don’t want to give up healthy eating and exercising or reading the newspaper. I don’t want to be a law student who is constantly working and getting little sleep. The pace Turow describes seems almost inhuman.
As a teacher and someone who’s taken a lot of graduate education courses, I can see the value in the Socratic method, but I can also see its glaring faults – and I don’t believe that inducing fear is ever helpful in getting someone to learn something.
But I also know myself and how I can get obsessed with competition and “excellence” and all that crap the Harvard Law students get caught up in.
I remember how hard I studied to understand the concepts in FAU’s Money and Banking class in 1986, when there was absolutely no reason for me to be so determined to get an A and to boost my early mediocre quiz scores.
Of course, getting the A in Money and Banking was an even sweeter achievement because of the struggle.
Right now I’d be thrilled simply to graduate with a J.D. It’s not as if I plan to be a corporate lawyer, after all. For what I want to do – no, I’m not sure what I want to do, only what I don’t want to do – law school grades don’t matter very much.
I stayed in all day, reading and doing the usual. I’d better enjoy the next two months B.L.S. – before law school – and relax a little.