A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, May 24, 1997
9:30 PM. This morning there was no Body Electric on TV, but I put on a tape in the living room while Teresa was forcing Paul to take a three-mile walk.
The dogs looked at me strangely, as China does in Fort Lauderdale, when I do my exercises. Teresa brought me back today’s New York Times and I finally caught up with the week’s papers, although I’ve been skimming articles more than usual.
In late morning, the house filled with smell of baking brownies and the other goodies that Teresa was making for the bar mitzvah she’s catering tonight.
Paul came back after going with Teresa and her workers to set up, and he said it’s a weird scene because the bar mitzvah boy’s father and his new wife already held a lavish affair this afternoon, and Teresa’s catering the party for the mother, the ex-wife who’s distraught and a lot worse off financially.
Teresa came back to cook some more in the kitchen, and I sat in the backyard as Paul cleaned the pool. It got warm enough today for me to go out in a t-shirt, though I was glad I wore jeans and not shorts.
After going with Teresa to the bakery at the Syosset LIRR station where I picked up the bread for her wedding last year, I took off on my own.
On the car radio’s traffic reports, it seemed as if traffic going into the city wasn’t bad. The LIE seemed like a normal highway, so I just went into the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and there wasn’t even a long wait at the tollbooth.
I drove down Second Avenue and finally parked at the corner of East 3rd Street, where I saw Quentin Crisp in his familiar outfit going into his filthy apartment across the street after he stopped to shake hands with a spiky-haired young admirer.
I tried calling my Brooklyn friends – Pete, Elihu, and Justin and Larry – but got only machines. What else could I expect on a holiday weekend? Josh had e-mailed me back that I could contact him if I wanted, but I was just as happy to explore the East Village on my own today.
Needing a bathroom as usual, I went to the Astor Place Barnes & Noble and found a great selection of literary magazines and another copy of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, which I bought for $4.95.
There was a street fair on one block of Third Avenue, and I looked at the usual street-food vendors and the other merchandise at the booths, but more interesting were the crowds in the street.
My assumption is that with that many people in the East Village, if I lived there, I could find friends and lovers among the hip. (Does it date me to use the word hip? Probably.)
I do feel that I could fit in again in New York City, but at this point in my life, I could fit in anywhere; whatever the opposite of misfit is, that’s me.
I took the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn – as the B train passed, I remembered many train rides across that bridge – and down Flatbush Avenue, from the newly revived downtown area (they’re even building a Marriott Hotel) past the giant superstore complex at Atlantic Avenue, down Seventh Avenue, where I parked by Union Street on Park Slope’s main thoroughfare.
It was cooler in Brooklyn, and I walked around the Slope for thirty minutes – luckily, my blister is almost healed – looking at stores, both familiar and new, until I drove off, taking Eastern Parkway through its nice black neighborhoods to Atlantic Avenue on into Queens.
This is the New York City that the tourists never see, the real neighborhoods, and as each area subtly changed into the next, I listened to NPR till I found myself at the hub of downtown Jamaica by Sutphin Boulevard.
Then I took Hillsdale Avenue east until finally I got on the Grand Central, which moved quickly even after it became the Northern State. “Normal Traffic Conditions Ahead” read the sign, not the more usual “Delays Ahead.”
Typically, I managed to get off at the right exit by luck or instinct, and before returning to Locust Valley, I went to the supermarket on Forest Avenue to buy a frozen dinner and other stuff I like.
Several people in the parking lot were interested in the “for sale” sign on Teresa’s father’s Caddy, and I told them his asking price and other details as they gathered round.
I ate dinner with Jade, who’d had a long day at work in the Martin Viette Nurseries. I think Jade is a terrific stepdaughter for Teresa, by the way, and a very attractive girl.
Then I took Hattie for a walk she needed; it’s a bit gross to pick up an Irish setter’s big turds, but I can do it, and she’s obviously become fond of me, as she follows me around all day, as Paul said, like I’m the Pied Piper.
I really feel good about my friends, about New York, and about myself.
Sunday, May 26, 1997
9 PM. It’s been raining steadily since last night. Teresa and Paul and the dogs are staying over in Fire Island tonight after spending today in Mattituck, so I’m alone except for Jade, who’s two floors below and very quiet.
This morning I left at 9:30 AM, and although Teresa told me to just drive to the Little Neck station and take the LIRR in, I drove all the way, taking Northern and Queens Boulevards (and getting to see more of Queens) to the LIE, to the BQE, and then over the slowly-moving Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan.
After I found parking on the corner of Sixth Avenue and East 15th Street, I went to see Alice. When she came down to meet me, each of us thought we hadn’t changed much, although she noticed I’d shaved my beard.
We went out to a trendy diner named Coffee Shop, owned by models on the corner of Union Square West and 16th Street. (Years ago it was a dive where Dad and I would have burgers deluxe. Before that, I think it was a parking lot where he paid for a monthly spot.)
Alice and I are in close touch, we have little news to catch up on, so it’s more like filling in details. Because it was too rainy to walk around, we went back to the apartment after brunch until she threw me out at 1:45 PM so she could get ready to meet Peter at an off-off-Broadway play on the Upper East Side.
Alice and Peter are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary, and she asked if Teresa would cater the party at a space in Manhattan. Alice said that Peter is fine, though he’s gotten fat and won’t exercise. (“He looks like a sweet potato.”)
She gave me a copy of her new book, Just the Weigh You Are, which is nicely designed. For a recent publicity session on CompuServe, she gave an hourlong “lecture” (she typed in a prepared speech) and then took questions from her fans, nearly all of whom had read her book and loved it.
Alice talked a lot about her experience as an agent; her batting average for selling books is about .500, which I think is great, and she’s getting a good reputation.
Being a literary agent allows her to have all the highs she got as a writer – the acceptances, the money, the praise – and none of the lows: the drudgery and the problems with her own editors.
Alice said I might be surprised to know that she sold a serious book: a Johns Hopkins researcher writing about animal testing and animal rights – to Farrar Straus for $30,000.
All her life, Alice has been very methodical and very pushy, a great combination for a literary agent, and Alice is a terrific networker. But because she’s my friend, I would never want to have her as my agent – just as I’d never want to be her lawyer.
We talked about other stuff besides publishing, of course, and she showed me a photo of Renee, who looks exactly the same.
Earlier I tried calling Elihu, who said he was cleaning the house and visiting his brother downstairs but wasn’t “available” to see me today.
Alice remarked that Elihu is “a sad person,” an odd, lonely guy trapped in a dead-end job way below his capabilities, and she attributes it – correctly, I suspect – to the things on his face and body. (I don’t know what they’re called, but I told Alice I thought it was akin to the Elephant Man disease.)
It was too nasty out to stay in the city, and traffic was bad, so I took Broadway to the Brooklyn Bridge (this weekend I made a trifecta over all the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan bridges) to the Heights, parking right at the corner of Remsen and Clinton, where I used to have therapy sessions with Shelly Wouk in 1972 and 1973.
Needing a bathroom badly, I went to the Happy Days Diner, a Greek place on Montague Street, and had a garden burger while I skimmed the news section of the Sunday Times. Two Greek Orthodox priests were in the booth next to the counter where I sat, discussing the popes, whom they called Wojtyla, Montini, Roncalli and whatever the last Pius’s last name was.
Traffic was ferocious going back to Long Island. At a standstill – or close to it – on the LIE, I got off the highway, and again, needing to pee, went into a Staples, where I also bought a mouse.
When I got home, I lifted weights to All Things Considered, ate dinner and briefly spoke to Dad in Florida.
Thursday, May 29, 1997
11 PM. I’m settling in later than usual. It was a long evening, and I’ve only just returned from going with Teresa as she took her mother-in-law home and Hattie to the lumberyard to poop. (Wait, did I mix that up? No, I guess not.)
It’s a chilly evening again. My stomach is distended and gassy from the little I ate of the meal Teresa and Paul served company: their parents and Buddy and Evelyn, who drove the Cadillac back to Mattituck.
So now I don’t have a car for the last five days of my visit. I know I’ve been spoiled. But today I wanted to make sure I used the car while I could, so I left the house early even though I hadn’t slept enough last night.
First I went to Roosevelt Field, to the CompUSA store across from the mall. I bought a $50 Microsoft Works for Windows 3.1, which hopefully will be easier to read than the version I have.
On my laptop, Lexis is almost unreadable; it seems as if I need black lettering on a white background. I might have to rent a big monitor in Lake Forest. I did buy a $15 full-size keyboard on sale.
After leaving the store, I took the Belt Parkway to Flatbush Avenue and drove past my old block and around the old neighborhood again.
Riding up Ralph Avenue, I was surprised that the Georgetowne Twin movie theater, which I attended on opening day in the summer of 1970, is now closed.
Later, I saw that the Jentz restaurant at the Junction, which had just expanded and been renovated in 1979, seemed to be gone, replaced by a KFC.
Before I went to the Junction, I drove down Flatlands Avenue to the East 80s, where Ronna and my childhood friend Eugene Lefkowitz used to live.
Parking near Brooklyn College, I walked around the neighborhood.
Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs now has her district office on Hillel Place. In in the window was a display of old campaign buttons from my own political past: Lindsay. It’s the second toughest job in America from his re-election in 1969; also from 1969, the moratorium button with lowercase white letters on a navy blue background; the light and dark blue McCarthy button from the 1968 primaries; and lots of buttons for local, state and national Democratic candidates like Howard Samuels, Dick Ottinger and Al Blumenthal.
At first I walked around the perimeter of the Brooklyn College campus and over to Midwood High School, but I asked the security guard if I could get a pass as an alumnus and former faculty member. He obliged, and I wandered around the campus.
In Boylan, I got the student newspapers, including Kingsman; the literary magazine riverrun, which published me in 1970 when I was a freshman and then again years later; and the fall and summer schedules of classes. Checking out the bulletin boards of the English Department on the second floor, I saw a number of familiar names, though I don’t know who the new MFA fiction professor is.
I walked downstairs to the new cafeteria and then to the empty lobby of LaGuardia and through the halls of Gershwin and Whitehead. I saw that Justin’s two sections of Intro to Acting had their finals yesterday and tomorrow, so he wasn’t in today.
After getting the Times and a baked potato at Wendy’s, I drove back home via Bedford Avenue, Linden Boulevard and the Van Wyck to the LIE.
Jade was home when I got here, and she gave me birthday cards from my parents and my brothers that came in the mail.
After lunch, I bought some greeting cards myself (for Father’s Day, an anniversary card for Teresa and Paul, a graduation card for Jade) and groceries. I also filled up the Cadillac with fuel and paid $16 for a deluxe car wash.
Finally, I went to see some of the spots around here where I hung out when I’d take drives in the 1970s, like the Morgan Park benches overlooking Hempstead Harbor in Glen Cove and the Garvies Point Museum and Preserve. The nature trails now have warning signs about ticks, and I’m afraid of Lyme disease so I just walked around briefly.
At 6 PM Teresa’s parents and their friends arrived, and Paul brought his mother, and we had a long social evening.
Just as they were about to leave at 9 PM, the cake bakers Jeff and Karen arrived, so Teresa led a second guided tour of the house.
Last year, I thought Jeff was cute and that he seemed gay, and I got the same impression tonight; surprisingly, he remembered meeting me at the wedding.
Jeff and Karen had been over to see Martin and John’s house in Centerport today after Teresa stared than there, but it wasn’t what they were looking for.
At the dinner table – butterflied leg of lamb (?), asparagus, salad, new potatoes, strawberries – there was the usual talk about houses, gardening, decorating, food and furniture that’s standard for Teresa, her family and friends.
Left to myself, I would never know that people could be so home-conscious, but it’s good for me to see and hear and learn and try to act “normal.”
Buddy led a long prayer – “saying grace” – before the meal, at which we all held hands. Somehow I like Evelyn and Buddy even though they’re religious fundamentalists.
Teresa’s parents were going back to Brooklyn to do stuff for the next week while Evelyn and Buddy were staying in Mattituck. (The house was originally owned by Buddy’s parents.)
I’m definitely going to miss the freedom and independence the car gave me, but I’ll make do or else I’ll rent a car for a few days.
Saturday, May 31, 1997
It’s 10 AM on a gloomy, cool Saturday morning.
Last evening I left a message on the CGR answering machine telling them that the DOE memo isn’t going to get done, that they should stop calling my parents because I won’t be back in Florida till mid-August, and if they need to contact me, they should write me in care of Teresa’s P.O. box.
Also last evening, I paid off nearly all my credit card bills early and made a $500 deposit for a secured Visa at Flatbush Federal Savings and Loan – I got an application at the Junction – and I mailed all that when I picked up last night’s Chinese takeout on Forest Avenue.
Unable to sleep, I took the computer downstairs and got online. Kevin had a fabulous time in Seattle with six of his friends and had “a sweet romantic interlude” with one of them. He’s back in L.A. with a new enthusiasm, and I’m glad for him.
Sean wrote (“Yo Richie!”) telling me he’s “not letting me off the hook that easily, bucko,” in asking for ideas for the theme of his dog Mary’s birthday party. Sean is so clever that I don’t see why he needs me. He’s also very sweet. It’s a joy to be in e-mail contact with him.
3 PM. Teresa told me I could drive her to New Jersey and then meet her in Manhattan after her party so that I could drive her back here, but I decided to just stay in Locust Valley.
I needed some solitude. Teresa is a great companion, but she talks all the time, and I need the sound of silence sometimes, as most writers do. Paul had already taken Hattie to the lumber yard, so I’ve been alone with Ollie since 11 AM.
I e-mailed a letter to the New York Times and did a load of dishwashing and am now waiting for my laundry to dry. After I exercised with my weights and did push-ups, calf raises and side bends, I went outside on the deck to read.
Against the odds, today turned into the loveliest day since my arrival, and for the first time I put on shorts. It was pleasant to fancy myself a suburbanite, stroking Ollie’s fur as he sat on my lap while I read in the shade of the umbrella at Teresa and Paul’s wrought-iron table.
I left messages with Josh and with Justin and Larry, and I spoke to Pete, who had some good news on two fronts. The editor at Smithsonian Press definitely wants to do his book but must first lay out a plan to convince the others at the house; they need to find people who will peer-review the manuscript.
Also, Pete got a call from Hamilton College upstate, inviting him to reapply for a position teaching creative writing and literature that he’d been turned down for last year.
His programming job at Guardian Life is “acceptable,” and he’s making good money; in July he’ll renegotiate his status, either to a part-time or consultant basis.
It’s been two weeks since I shaved off my beard, and by now I’m used to my clean-shaven face. Probably it does make me look younger, though I liked the definition facial hair gave me. My body looks fine, and I’ve probably maintained or lost weight despite the changes in my diet.
It’s been over a month since I left Gainesville and stopped teaching, two months since I left CGR, and I’m feeling quite good about how I adjusted to the changes in my life.
My identity wasn’t as wrapped in my role at the University of Florida law school as I had feared, and if I’ve made a real break with CGR, so be it. Jon Mills has a lot of power in Florida, but he can’t prevent me from working as a teacher at Nova, and his influence doesn’t extend to fields beyond legal academia and state politics.
Besides, he has more enemies than most people, and if a Republican is elected governor next year along with a GOP legislature, they may succeed in killing CGR as they almost did this spring.
Jon Baumbach is still director of the fiction MFA at Brooklyn College, after all, and if his enmity has hurt my career, it hasn’t stopped me from succeeding as a published writer or a teacher or a lawyer.
In a few days I go to Ragdale and will get to live in the Midwest for the first time in my life. That alone will make June an interesting month.