A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1993

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, July 21, 1993

3 PM. We’re having our daily thunderstorm early today. I don’t know why it is, but I feel so much more energy once it clouds up and begins to rain.

I guess it’s the negative ions in the air; it also gets cooler, and I love the respite from the harsh glare of the sun, which gets to me even when I spend nearly all day indoors.

Mom called last evening and we talked briefly; I got off to hear a radio reports on the Joint Chiefs’ testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

After reading the new policy, the only advantage I think it has on the old ban is that recruits are no longer asked if they’re gay, so they don’t have to lie initially.

I also read a report on the Crown Heights riots that faulted Mayor Dinkins and the NYPD for not responding sooner and more forcefully.

Mom said that while Dad didn’t have much to do while he was at the Miami menswear show, he’s there all day.

So I’ll wait till he gets home tonight to wish him a happy birthday – not that Dad is interested in being reminded of his age.

I mailed out some letters Mom asked me to write Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (who’ll probably be indicted soon). Taken from the wholesale reps’ newsletter, they urge Congress to reverse a recent Supreme Court decision that puts the kibosh on the tax deductibility of sales reps’ home offices.

Last evening I read Sid Zion’s The Autobiography of Roy Cohn. Now there was a crooked lawyer and the epitome of a self-hating homosexual who went out of his way to persecute gay people as well as suspected Commies.

I don’t buy Cohn’s dewy-eyed view of Joe McCarthy – another evil, vile man.

It fascinates me, though, that Cohn could have had so many prominent friends. Apparently he could be a terrific friend – and he seemed to know everyone in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

I fell asleep at 11 PM right after the latest episode of The Thorn Birds.

Up at 6 AM, I got today’s paper, did some shopping at Walmart and Albertsons, exercised to Homestretch on TV and Body Pulse on video, and had a late lunch.

I think I might have a way to finish the story I began yesterday – but right now it’s just a glimmer of a germ of an idea, and I’ll need to figure it out more.

I’m surprised I’m not succumbing to depression despite having all this leisure time. After all, don’t Europeans get five weeks of vacation every year? We Americans are neurotic about vacations, as we are about nearly everything: sex especially, but also religion and violence.

Sunday, July 25, 1993

5 PM. There’s a violent thunderstorm in progress, and I can feel myself getting back the energy I lost in my afternoon torpor.

All of a sudden I feel sharp, with my brain focusing on important questions like Why, in two years of living in Gainesville, have I never seen a nun in this town?

Ronna called a little while ago, and that cheered me up enormously. I could hear Steve in the background (he sounds like me), and I’m glad he and Ronna are seeing each other again.

Ronna got back a week ago from the Hadassah convention in Los Angeles.

She really hates flying (she said she’s flown only about 15 times; earlier, when I had nothing to do, I counted that I’d been on 61 plane trips, excluding changes from one jet to another), and the convention itself was stressful, with boring meetings that dragged on for hours.

But all of Ronna’s own presentations went well, and she did get to see the Santa Monica Pier and Venice and Laguna Beach (to visit someone’s sister).

She also got to go out to nice restaurants like Spago, where she had pizza. The convention itself was held at the Century Plaza, which looked glamorous to me when I was in L.A.

This afternoon the Brinkley show featured a discussion on Los Angeles and the “exodus” from Southern California due to crime, immigration woes, race problems, defense cutbacks, pollution and a poor economy in general.

To me, that’s exactly why this would be a great time to move to L.A.: you’d be “buying low,” sailing against conventional wisdom.

Anyway, Ronna said she’d be delighted to go with me to the 20th anniversary reunion of the classes of 1973 and 1974 being held at Brooklyn College next spring. She said she might even get involved in the planning.

Ronna may be in Florida next month if she can get a triangle fair on her way to a convention on Jewish education in San Antonio.

She told me that Billy and Melissa left Gainesville this week for their new home in La Jolla.

Last evening I enjoyed the final two hours of The Thorn Birds, which proved to be a good story – like Gone with the Wind or the Forsyte Saga – even if it was trite.

I’m a sucker for multi-generational sagas where the actors end up in old-age makeup, when the earlier episodes take on a mythic quality, if only because so much has happened since then. (That’s what accounts for the “golden age” phenomenon generally.)

I also spoke with my parents to tell them about two New York Times obituary notices that I found.

One was that of Dorothy V. Russo from the Mill Basin Civic association, whose funeral is at McManus on Flatbush and Flatlands.

The other was Benjamin Karol, the brother of Gilly, who owned our bungalows at Lincoln Court. Dad reminded me that Ben owned the candy store on the corner of Beach 56th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

At the Miami menswear show, Dad saw Irving Cohen pass by his booth. Dad didn’t call out his name because he felt funny, but then he decided to go after Irving – only he couldn’t find him.

I associate Irving and his wife with my childhood in the late ’50s and the ’60s. Mom and Dad stopped talking to them a long time ago.

Mom got me roped into a long legal question involving a credit card she had on a joint account with Jonathan, which he didn’t want to pay.

No matter how much I explained it, Mom had trouble understanding why Jonathan was now legally responsible for the debt.

I’m glad I don’t have the patience to be an attorney to people like Mom, who won’t take the black-letter law for an answer.

I had thought about going out for McLean Deluxe tonight, but the weather is horrible. Hopefully, the heavy rain will wash off the massive amount of birdshit on my car’s windshield and windows.

My storm-based rush of energy is now somewhat depleted as a sinus headache is starting to blossom. The weather giveth and the weather taketh away.

Monday, July 26, 1993

8 PM. Last night I slept well, but I dreamed about seeing the summer school grades posted. I wish my grade didn’t matter so much because I feel stupid about caring.

I guess I’ve always needed outside affirmation. I don’t seem to have enough self-esteem to be satisfied with my own evaluations of how I’ve done.

In Weyrauch’s class, I’m sure to be disappointed with anything less than an A – but why? As a teacher, I know how arbitrary essay tests are.

And if I do get an A, I’ll ultimately be disappointed if I don’t book the class. Why do I have this compulsion to do better than everyone else?

It’s pathetic, especially at my stage of life. Maybe if I had more success as a writer . . . but that would have never been enough, either. Nor would money or a boyfriend or all the newspaper articles about me in the world.

I need therapy to get over this need for outside validation and approval.

Last evening and this morning, I worked on my CV, particularly on my publications list. Amassing all those story acceptances was the 1970s equivalent of law school grades or publicity for me.

Speaking of my stories, today I came across “A Note on the Type” by Alexander Theroux in the newest Pushcart Prize anthology (which has never published me).

Originally published in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, it’s very similar to my story which ended up in a different form at the end of With Hitler in New York.

Obviously Theroux and I were parodying the same sources, but it looks as if he plagiarized me.

Up at 7:30 AM, I spent the morning finishing today’s newspaper, exercising, and doing laundry. I again saw that cute guy in the laundry room who is never wearing anything but shorts.

In his biography of Frank O’Hara, Brad Gooch said that O’Hara’s attraction to straight guys was a form of self-hating homophobia. Am I like that? (I’m assuming this guy was not gay.)

But it’s not like I’m not attracted to gay guys. In fact, I seem to have a strong preference for boyish guys who are slightly effeminate and pretty, like Sean and Jody. I tend to be turned off by macho types like the 1980s Marlboro cowboy wannabees.

There was an ad in that 900-number “Meeting Place” in the Gainesville Sun from a 35-year-old “health-conscious medical student” who wanted to meet another guy.

I thought about answering it, but at $2 a minute, I’m hesitant to spend the money. I’m also hesitant because the guy might be a weirdo.

(Oh, so like you’re not a weirdo? Get real, Grayson.)

The only email I got today was an order form from Keith Clark, the company that makes my diaries. They’re discontinuing this model, 55-148. I’ve been so used to it.

On Friday – no, Saturday – I’ll finish 24 years of my diary-keeping, and I guess 25 years of the same diary model is a long time.

They suggest a substitute, a “Daily Reminder,” but I found the same item at Chestnut’s across the street.

I guess Keith Clark has merged with the company that always did those other diaries that have long been available here in the South.

So I’ll buy it at the store, which will be cheaper than if I ordered it. The new diary gives me a smaller space to write, but it’s a red-colored volume and it it’s as close to this kind as I can get.

Friday, July 30, 1993

8 PM. I’ve been reading John Cheever’s journals. Cheever was a tortured man, an alcoholic who struggled with an unhappy marriage and his gay feelings as well as all the tortures of a gifted artist.

Cheever’s journal made me look at Thirties/Eighties again, and I liked what I read. Whatever happens with the AWP contest, I should remember that I’ve got this book which is important to me.

My diary isn’t like Cheever’s journal; it’s got no brilliant passages, and it relies on daily entries in which I’m often inarticulate (as here). But it is authentic, and it makes me feel I’m authentic, too.

I once wrote a poem, “For Edmund Wilson”:

was ever

it was

After exercising, I left for the Millhopper library. I had decided to call that medical student who advertised in the paper, so I wanted to find his ad in the paper.

At home, I wasted too much money on the 900 number at $2 a minute. When I heard his voice, the guy didn’t sound all that great, and he lives in Lake City.

Showing how lonely I am, I left a message after hearing another ad, this one from a 20-year-old SFCC student looking for an older guy. Ian – he gave his name – sounded intelligent, sweet and “together” although he’s way too tall (6’3”) and skinny (150 pounds) for me.

I very much doubt he’ll call me back. But at least I can have a fantasy for a while.

In the afternoon, I forced myself to go to the Harn Museum. I had to use my one piece of junk mail to hold the red-hot steering wheel, as it was 96°.

I spent an hour at the museum, slowly making my way through two exhibits, From Degas to Dan Flavin: Modern Sculpture From the Columbus Museum of Art and Printmaking in the Great Depression: Government Patronage and Artistic Expression.

The latter exhibit featured work from WPA artists in New York City. I got to see wonderful scenes of a lost New York, including one of a Lower East Side sweet potato man selling from a pushcart that Aunt Tillie had told me about.

A little girl about nine years old standing next to me said she didn’t know what a sweet potato was, so her sister tried to explain it to her.

When I got home, I had a sweet potato.

Saturday, July 31, 1993

7 PM. I feel surprisingly cheerful this evening. Perhaps it’s simply that I’ve survived July.

In a couple of weeks the fall semester at law school will begin, and right after that so will the term at Santa Fe. I’ll be back in the swing of things and not isolated anymore.

This final year of law school, I intend to have fun and get more involved with people and activities, including stuff at school and with the gay community.

I need to come out of my shell or off my high horse or in from the cold.

Yes, I also have to figure out what I’m going to do after law school, but I’m not going to worry. I’ve managed to manage all of my adult life – even If I often had lots of help – and I’ll be okay, no matter what.

God, don’t I sound disgustingly optimistic? What accounts for it? Nothing, really.

The only good news in the last 48 hours was that yesterday Unemployment issued a check for $61. (I’d forgotten the first week of a new benefit year is a waiting week.) That will help me a lot until my scholarship money comes through, though right now I still have to figure out how to pay the August rent.

At 3 PM, I went to the Royal Park and paid a dollar to see Sylvester Stallone’s mountain-climbing movie, Cliffhanger. It was typical 1990s Hollywood garbage and very violent, but at least watching the snowy Alpine scenery, I could pretend it wasn’t 98° here.

I don’t expect that guy Ian to call, and by now I’ll be relieved if he doesn’t.

It’s funny, but last night I got a call from a man who said, “I’m calling about the ad in the paper.”

“What ad?” I asked.

It turned out he had a wrong number.

So this marks the close of 24 years of diary keeping, more or less. It’s funny how close I still feel to that 18-year-old kid in the summer of 1969. But maybe we have stuff in common.

I didn’t have much to do after my first summer session at Brooklyn College ended and I spent most of my time alone. I was also answering personal ads; that’s how I met Brad. (I haven’t been able to track him down, even through the property files on Lexis.)

In the summer of 1969, I didn’t have many friends and I wanted to be a writer without really wanting to do the work of writing.

I guess I could have made a lot of different choices that would have me somewhere else by now, but I figure only half of them would be for the better, and half the alternate paths would have me worse off than today.

Whatever “better off” or “worse off” means.

It’s stupid (and untrue) to say I have regrets, but it’s also idiotic to say I have no regrets. What do regrets have to do with living?

I can’t say I’m proud of everything I’ve done; I’ve often taken the easiest way out of the situation, but given where I started, that’s understandable.

So, is this a self-delusional apologia? And why aren’t I being specific? I’d come down hard on a student essay that was this vague.

But for a change, I don’t feel much like judging anybody – though my internal critic counters that it’s curious I feel this way whenever I have to judge myself.