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August 9, 2016

A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1979

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Tuesday, May 1, 1979

5 PM. It’s a beautiful day, warm and sunny. On Sunday, Marc and Deanna decided on the spur of the moment to fly to Florida, and they’ve had nothing but heavy rain in Miami for two days.

Last evening I marked papers and watched Gentleman’s Agreement, the 1942 film about anti-Semitism. It’s dated, of course – nobody says “sheeny” anymore, and only Jews seem to use “kike” – but then again, it’s not only about anti-Semitism but prejudice of any kind, anywhere.

The film makes the point that it’s those of us who let offensive remarks pass without challenging them are also guilty. Yet it takes courage to tell a person his joke about “spics” or “fairies” or “broads” is not funny.

Vietnamese refugeesOn Sunday I was incensed when I saw a Midwestern congressmen explaining that we didn’t want any more Vietnamese refugees; he said that Soviet Jews were a different matter: “They’re our kind of people.”

That makes me furious, especially because I’m a Jew. A hundred years ago we weren’t their kind of people, either. See, I still have some idealistic passion left.

Last night I called Josh, who’d gotten his observation report, which was excellent. Josh told me that NYCCC is looking for instructors for the summer session, so I sent the chairman there a new résumé; I also wrote Oscar Miller at Kingsborough to keep me in mind.

Newsday 1978Josh works in the writing lab with this guy Jim Polk, who does freelance book reviews for Newsday. Today Josh phoned and put Jim on. Jim was a little worried about it not being ethical to review my book – he’s obviously an innocent in literary politics – but I said he was under no obligation: I would just send the book to him, and if he wanted to review it, it was up to him.

Afterwards I called Wes, who said he’d send Jim out the page proofs. Last night I dreamed that Wesley told me I was a bad writer and I was furious at him. When I told Wes about my dream, he said, “I had a homo dream last night” – but not about me, of course.

He and Marla have found an apartment on Riverside and West 100th wes and marla's bldgStreet. They’re going to sign the lease tonight, and they’ll move in May 15.

Earlier in the day, unable to stand the suspense, I phoned Library Journal and asked if the review of Hitler was in their May 15 issue.

The woman knew the book was by “Grayson,” and she said it would be in the June 1 issue. When I phoned Wes back to tell him this, he called me “a ballsy little Brooklynite.”

This morning I bought ten copies of the New York Times to use in my veterans’ class and then went off to Brooklyn College. In my English Department mailbox, I found a postcard addressed to “Mr. Grayson.” It said nothing, but there was a bizarre drawing of a screaming figure on the back. I thought it was some kind of threat until I met Pete Cherches for lunch and he admitted sendinColumbia Spectator May 1979g it.

He was very angry because he got no financial aid at Columbia for next year. Dan Halpern, the master politician of the literary world, sent along a condescending letter that was downright insulting. (He asked that Pete let him know as soon as possible if he wasn’t coming back so they could make room for another warm body and another $5,000.)

Pete has decided to see if he can transfer to the MFA program at Brooklyn and had an appointment with Peter Spielberg after our lunch; he wanted to see if he could get a teaching fellowship.

Pete Cherches is lucky that he has a healthy ego; some people would be devastated by the rejections he’s received at Columbia.

In today’s mail, Earthwise, a Miami magazine, accepted a poem about Grandpa Nat, and Eric Baizer sent me a delightful chapbook, Bent, which he inscribed, “To Richard Grayson – the George Myers of small presses.”


Thursday, May 3, 1979

Lavon5 PM. This morning I got a person-to-person call from Lavon Fulweiler, chairman of the English and Speech Department at Texas Woman’s University. She informed me that they had unanimously recommended me for the position of Writer-in-Residence for the fall 1979 semester at a salary of $6,000 for the four months.

I was flabbergasted and asked if I could let her know; she told me I could have a day to think it over. My first solid academic job offer – but in the end, I decided not to accept it.

I spoke with my parents and friends – Ronna, Alice, Pete antexas woman's university signd Teresa – and called up Prof. Fulweiler an hour ago. She was very disappointed: “I had hoped we would be colleagues.”

I was enormously flattered, of course, and in this time when academic jobs are so scarce, it seems a shame to turn down any job. If it were for a year, I would have considered it. If I didn’t have Albany, I definitely would have taken it.

But Denton, Texas, is not really where I want to be – not in an all-women’s school. Of course I’d be a big shot there, having to teach only one course and spending the rest of the time writing and giving lectures.

SUNY AlbanyStill, Albany seems so much better for me – even though I’ll be only a student there. And maybe this job at Hunter will come through, or the job at Rutgers-Camden (I took a gamble and wrote the Rutgers chairman that I had to know now if they were still considering me because I have another offer).

I think the culture shock of Texas would be a little too much for me now – especially since I’d be so fawned over. I’m not used to that.

Funny: last night I had dream in which a Mill Basin couple thought I was a kid, and they refused to believe I wasn’t even when I took my faculty ID and Authors Guild membership card from my wallet.

babyfaceSuddenly, looking young is bothering me; I want to be treated as an adult, a professional, a writer and teacher. When the college parking lot watchman called me “Sonny Boy” today, I winced.

Aside from that, I believe I can do better than Texas Woman’s University. My parents agree, and so did my friends. Of course, as Teresa said, there’s some Protestant ethic in all of us that make us feel guilty about turning down any job.

But once I’ve made a decision, I don’t like to second-guess myself. I’m proud that I was selected – without an interview – and of course I feel some regret. But there are going to be a number of choices for me to make.

Big_Shot_Billy_JoelWith a doctorate after my book comes out – eventually – I should have no trouble finding a job. Or is that enormous hubris? The Jewish grandmother in me says Yes, it is. A bird in hand . . .

The editor of Kingsman, Roger Schulman, phoned last evening; I’d sent him Disjointed Fictions, and he wanted to know if he could reprint a story in tomorrow’s issue. I felt glad, but now I wonder: will I be embarrassed?

All these weird things are happening, and I almost think it’s just the beginning. It seems unbelievable.

This morning I met Ronna’s cousin Betty on campus when I went to pick up my paycheck; coincidentally, she was just going to put a friendly note in my mailbox.

Heart of GlassBetty had just come from the hospital where she’d had tests done, and she was carrying a plastic container for her to urinate into. I hope everything is all right with her heart; she doesn’t know I know about her condition.

Canadian Jewish Dialog came out with “A Hard Woman”; I’m going to get in trouble because I let that story get published too much.


Friday, May 4, 1979

9 PM. I’m trying to relax now after a hectic week. Even though only good things have been happening, the weight of them is still stressful. Last night I was so overwrought – that’s an old-fashioned term – I couldn’t sleep.

L2I have such a big mouth. Last evening I told Mike Murphy and Lou Asekoff about the Texas job offer; both thought I should accept it. But I wouldn’t be happy in Texas, not at this stage of my life.

It’ll be hard enough for me to adjust to moving to Albany, which is relatively a stone’s throw away. I don’t want to take in more than I can handle. It will be Albany, Rutgers in Camden, or staying in New York City. Further away than that would be too far for me.

Last evening I had my Small College write. “Next term it will be better,” I told them. I heard Sonia Santos mutter under her breath: “Yeah, we won’t have you.” Fuck her, the stupid woman. Yet why did I act so friendly toward fuck_you.05.8her after she said that?

Last night I met Wes Baron, who’s still taking graduate courses in Poli Sci and who told me he’ll be the Graduate Student Organization president next year – against his will, he claims.

As I said, I couldn’t sleep last night. Marc and Deanna returned from their five-day trip to Florida at 2 AM; I heard them come in. Marc said it rained quite a bit, but he looked tanned. They stayed at a motel but spent time with Grandma Sylvia (her reaction to Deanna: “She’s so thin!”) and the Littmans.

I awoke late today, almost at noon. The mail brought that letter from Ellen Levine, the Curtis Brown literary agent, who told me David Lenson frPanache coverom Panache praised my work when she met him at a party and then she saw the PW review and asked Lou Strick for my address.

She hoped I was ready to work with an agent. I wrote her back a polite letter saying that I don’t have much to offer as a client.

Crad Kilodney sent me a letter agreeing that his wanting to be famous in a world filled with dummies is a contradiction, but he can’t help how he feels.

More copies of Canadian Jewish Dialog arrived; last evening I saw one in the English Department office, addressed to the chairman. (I also found a note on the counter from Allen Ginsberg telling the secretaries to xerox a bunch of copies of copier adsomething, but I suppressed the thought of stealing it as a collector’s item.)

When I went to the departmental mailboxes this afternoon, I saw Jim Merritt, who asked how I was doing and seemed genuinely pleased at my successes. I like him a lot.

In class today, I had my veterans write on legalizing marijuana. They laughed when I suggested they try writing the essay while stoned. For an effete intellectual, I get along with them pretty well.

In fact, when I got home, there was a message to call Neil Schaeffer. He said Bill Browne of the Veterans Outreach Program had specifically asked for me as a teacher of this summer’s English 0.2 classes.High Times May 1979

Unfortunately, they were at very different hours: early morning and early evening. I asked Neil if I could take just the evening course, and that would be fine.

“Contingent on registration and natural disasters,” I’ll be teaching English 0.2 NP2 Monday through Thursday, 6:10 PM to 7:55 PM at 1511 Plaza. It will mean giving up the fellowship in Virginia and it will mean teaching remedial once again, without that vacation I wanted. But I need the money to take with me to Albany in the fall.

Last night I kept figuring out how little money I really have despite my $1,600 in the bank. There will be two weeks between this term and the summer session, and I’ll have my days free to write and to sun myself and to see what’s happening with my book.


Sunday, May 6, 1979

3 PM. Today is the kind of Sunday that makes me wonder how I can worry about too many good things happening. Since yesterday, everything around me seems to have turned to lead.

1979 Boerum HillLast night, for example: I didn’t really feel like going to Janice’s birthday party in Boerum Hill. Alice called to say that she was going to Mario’s house and I could pick her up there.

I went the address I remembered her giving, but after fifteen minutes and no Alice, I decided I’d gotten the address wrong and went home to check. I’d been at the right address, but she hadn’t come out because Mario was telling Alice his many problems.

Anyway, at 9 PM, when I finally got Alice in my car, I told her I didn’t feel like going to the party. Besides, I had no gas in my car and almost all gas stations are closed on weekends now.

1979 subway stairway topAfter we rode around, filled up my tank, and bought a bottle of wine, Alice admitted that she really didn’t want to go to the party, either, so I put her on the train to Manhattan and a date with Peter.

(Peter, incidentally, having failed to sell his TV pilot – it sounded absurd to me – is now writing a novel called The Sex Teacher, which has to be better than it sounds.)

I came home and fell asleep; these days, sleeping seems to be the only thing I’m good at. This morning I got up at 9 AM, read the papers, exercised, marked my veterans’ essays, and called Ronna.

London CallingShe was on the other phone, said she’d call me back, and of course she never did. I’m furious with her once again. She is so full of shit. We’ve seen each other twice in the last three months, and those times were only because I surprised her. She hasn’t initiated a phone call since I can’t remember when.

Yet I keep calling her up whenever I have news – the PW review, the Texas job – when it’s obvious she couldn’t care less. She doesn’t want to be my friend the way I want to be hers. Well, I’ll just have to make new friends – and lovers.

answering machine 1979I realize now that I’m attractive, and my book makes me more so; I can tell the way people respond to me at social gatherings. Someday Ronna will want to get in touch with me and I won’t return her phone calls, and undoubtedly that will confirm her belief that success has changed me (and that all men are like her father).

Oh well. I care, but not all that much, and what I feel is more annoyance than despair.

I went to visit Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb today. Thank God they didn’t harp on my getting married the way they usually do. As we had lunch George Bush 1979there, we watched George Bush on Meet the Press, and Grandma Ethel told me how her stepmother is rotting away in that apartment.

Grandma Ethel laments Dad’s business failures. He is now giving up the jeans business: there’s just too much competition or whatever. Dad will never be able to do more than just get by from now on in; I’ve been convinced of that for the past couple of years.

There’s probably going to be a recession soon anyway. With the oil shortage growing critical and the annual inflation rate at 13%, I don’t know how anybody will be able to make a living.

As you can see, this is one of my dark days. I’m unhappy and just want to get off to Albany and hide away in my books and my writing.


Tuesday, May 8, 1979

coppertone ad 19795 PM. I’m beet-red now; at least the front of me is. I lay in the backyard for two hours this morning and got very sunburned. It hurts a little, and I know it’s bad for me, but psychologically, it makes me feel so good.

Last evening after dinner, I went to the college. The kid who was just closing up the English office told me Jervis was elected chairman, as expected.

Lou Asekoff came in and told me we’re giving the CUNY exam to the Small College English 0.2 sections two weeks from tonight. We’re going to have a meeting about it on Thursday before class. I’ve gotten conflicting memos as to when the veterans’ test is.

This afternoon I went to BC and grabbed a quick bite in the faculty dining room. On the quadrangle I checked out the shirtless boys; I’ve got to get one The Alternateof them for myself soon.

Speaking of that, The Alternate, a San Francisco gay magazine, informed me that I’m a finalist in their short story contest (which I don’t remember entering); they wanted to make sure the story hasn’t been published before.

I got a long letter from Chris. The smiling faces he peppers his letters with were on strike and were frowning and picketing on the edges of the paper. Chris expounded on Broadway musicals and how to avoid being raped on campus (avoid makeup and short skirts, don’t wink at widowed sociologists or relay boxwear a T-shirt saying “No vacancy”).

He said he’s been ill lately – flu combined with his back going out – but now he’s back at the grind: “Getting established in a new location and media of glamorous showbiz is not terribly engrossing stuff, consisting largely of diligence and patience.”

Chris is starting to become annoying.

Michael Lally writes: “Richard – Disjointed Fictions is a total delight – we got some things in common, right? – our interest in ourselves as compared to the rest of them . . . I mean I’m glad, again, you sent it to me . . . ”

Lally_cover_RockyBetween young actors and older poets, you’d think I’d be able to find a lover. Michael says we have things in common, but he seems to have really lived and done everything while I’ve stayed at home and done nothing.

Today I think I was great with my veterans, so brilliant and with-it that they loved me. But it was fun: sometimes I do like them, and they seem to think of me as a regular guy.

I’ve been getting some good submissions for the under-30 fiction anthology – nothing really bad – and that surprises me. I’m not going to get to the stories for a while, though.

dr. eschenBecause my lenses have been bothering me, I went to see Burt Eschen, who discovered I’d been wearing my right lens in my left eye and vice versa. Burt says it happens all the time, but I feel foolish.

Gee, my chest burns and feels scaly. Tomorrow I have off and it’s supposed to be warmer than today, when it got up to 80°. It’s an early summer preview that makes me feel good. Don’t tell me the weather doesn’t affect emotions.

I had a fond dream about Ronna last night; I guess I don’t blame her for not wanting to be close anymore. Actually, she’s probably doing me a favor by letting me know how she feels. Ronna can’t help it if she doesn’t feel about me the way I feel about her.

I feel very free this afternoon. If only I didn’t have to teach tonight.


Wednesday, May 9, 1979

diner inside6:30 PM. Just now, walking home from an almost-empty Floridian Diner – “I bet they’re standing in line to get into the Kings Plaza Diner,” said my waitress: the fat, mean-looking one whom I prefer to the dizzy, fluttery lady at the other counter – it hit me: This is the happiest time of my life.

Doubtless my happiness is just a momentary illusion, but it’s one I intend to enjoy. It hit 95° today, but I couldn’t go out in the sun; yesterday’s sunburn was still too painful. I didn’t realize how burned I’d gotten.

I was uncomfortable all night, especially around the folds of my skin: my neck, the inside of my elbow, my ankles. I hadn’t meant to get so much sun. But in another day I’ll look really good, with a deep tan, one I’ll keep up – though more safely, with sunscreen –all summer.

That Summer!It’s the splendid anticipations which are always the most delightful time of life, and here I am, on the edge of summer, at the edge of the publication of my book, nearing the end of the term, on the verge of starting a new life in Albany.

I’m sure, as always, when fall comes around I’ll be discontented and disappointed. But now – with everything about to happen – I feel wonderful.

Last evening I sat outside in the Rock Garden by Whitehead for an hour ivy (1)until it was time for my class. I was in a reverie, spurred by memories and the cool night and the smell of honeysuckle.

I was in great form with my class; I looked good, in a checked shirt and my unconstructed jacket and dark trousers; rarely have I ever felt so together. My students responded well, and I felt as though I were accomplishing something important. I left the college with this great sense of being me, the right me, if that makes sense.

This morning James Brady called, apologizing for not calling sooner, saying he’d arrange an evening soon with the other guy who won the Post “Tales of New York” contest and our dates.quilted-giraffe-c

I called Alice and asked her to go along. She wondered why I don’t want Ronna to go, but I told Alice she’d appreciate it more. Alice is more used to these glamorous evenings, and besides, she’s so blasé, it will help me feel at ease.

I didn’t tell her that I want to punish Ronna for not calling me back, that I want to tell Ronna that I had wanted to invite her, but since she never returned my calls . . .

phone 1979 push-buttonAnyhow, it turned out that Ronna did call on Sunday, when no one was home – and that she never got my messages. Ronna phoned this afternoon, and although we were formal at first, when she lapsed into calling me “little one,” I melted. It was the kind of thing she’d call me in bed.

She’s been very unhappy lately, but couldn’t talk about it. “Your job?” I asked, and she said yes, but now, after making a decision, she’s feeling relieved.

At work, they’ve asked Ronna to review my book “from the point of view of someone who knows the author.” It sounds weird, and I’m not sure she wants to do it. Although it would be great publicity – Metro is carried by so many papers – I’m not going to press Ronna. Besides, she might be out of the job by June.

As usual, she’s been busy; Cara and Sid are in from Indiana, and she said Cara would like to get together with me – I guess because she’s an MFA grateful dead penn statestudent.

Last night I told Allen Ginsberg how much I enjoyed his reading, and he seemed grateful; I think he liked me. TC mark