Monday, September 10, 1979
9 PM. I’m absolutely sick. I dread tomorrow. I accepted the courses at Kingsborough, but tonight I understand that I have a good chance at the Department of Educational Services job at Brooklyn College.
After I was unable to reach Martha Bell at BC today, I had forgotten about it, but at 6 PM, Pete called and said that according to the grapevine, I was one of the leading candidates. I phoned the office where the DES people were meeting and told them my situation.
They seemed quite agitated, but they told me I wouldn’t hear anything definite until 2 PM tomorrow – after my classes at Kingsborough. I feel terrible. I’ve been calling everyone I know – Grandpa Herb, Ronna, Josh – to ask them what I should do.
Everyone says, “Look out for yourself.” But I’d feel just awful quitting Kingsborough after one day. How could I face Oscar, the secretaries, all the people who were so nice to me? I’d feel like a real creep.
God damn the system for putting me in this uncomfortable position! And I’m the one who ends up feeling guilty. I feel terribly guilty about a call I got – while I was out, thank the Lord – from Donald Stauffer, wanting to know why I didn’t come to Albany.
Can I look myself in the face if I leave Kingsborough for Brooklyn? I can barely look myself in the face now because of Albany. But isn’t all I’ve done just doing the best I can for myself? This is a real dilemma.
I’ve been feeling so tense lately. Last evening was so unbearable that I actually wrote a story. Tomorrow is going to be the worst day of my life. Whatever happens, I’ll end up feeling awful.
Oh, what a pain it is to have conscience. If only I could be a real hard-headed businessman type, considering nothing but my self-interest.
And this is all forgetting about the tension I’m going to have making that drive to Kingsborough from Manhattan after my class at Visual Arts. I wish I were dead.
Maybe I should follow Josh’s advice and tell Brooklyn College to go screw themselves and just go to Kingsborough, where at least I’m treated like a human being.
I wish Pete hadn’t called. I had tried to forget about BC, even though I was there this afternoon and was wishing that I was teaching there.
10 PM. I’ve just spoken to Dr. Pasquale. He asked me if there would be any reality-based repercussions from my telling Oscar Miller that I couldn’t teach the course. I don’t think there would be.
I doubt if I’d be blacklisted or anything like that, though certainly I’d be too embarrassed ever to apply for a job at Kingsborough again. But I don’t suppose I’d want to. And if Brooklyn College calls, I’ll be set for a year, because those courses are guaranteed for two semesters.
I spoke to Alice and Mom and Dad, and everyone seems to agree that I’ve got to act in my own best interests. So I do feel a little easier.
If I don’t get the job with DES, there’s no problem. Certainly, as Josh said, they would feel no compunction about firing me if the course didn’t materialize. Josh himself has been offered another developmental writing course at NYCCC, but because of his Pace class, he couldn’t fit it in his schedule.
Actually – if I were a different kind of man – I’d take pleasure in having a good bargaining position: I will have classes either way. So relax, Grayson. Try to get some sleep. Forget about this for now.
I am very tense, though. This morning I spent $100 to get my muffler and accessories replaced. It’s turned cool.
We had a meeting at Kingsborough today. Stephen, Elihu’s brother, was also offered two courses, so he’s going to have to call Brooklyn and tell them he couldn’t tutor as many sections of English there as he said he would.
Avis called me to say goodbye; she leaves for Virginia tomorrow. It turns out that Josh isn’t the only one of our friends Avis is interested in: Teresa told me that Avis wanted to sleep with her when they were alone together.
Wednesday, September 12, 1979
3 PM. For the first time since the spring, I feel overwhelmed by unhappiness. Perhaps life can’t be as idyllic as this summer was for me, but why not? Bit by bit I feel all the delight and creativity in my life being squeezed out of me.
I suppose I’ve always looked to day-to-day events as reasons not to commit suicide. Now I wonder if there are going to be any good reasons in the coming months.
I can’t even take joy in the things which would have delighted me months ago, or even three weeks ago: friendly letters from Lola Szladits and Marvin Kitman; a note from B. Dalton saying that they’ve ordered Hitler; going to Waldenbooks in Kings Plaza and seeing that they’ve sold two more copies of my book.
The Department of Educational Services called while I was out today and told me to report to Mr. Someone tomorrow. Fuck them: they’re Brooklyn College at its worst. The Alumni Bulletin, featuring the story “Hitler,” arrived today. I love BC, but I hate the way that place is run. I intend to have more influence as an alumnus than as an employee.
A notice for me to report for jury duty arrived today. After all these years, they finally caught up to me. Why now?
I feel I can’t work and cope with life’s little details: cooking, cleaning, doing the shopping and the laundry. I never realized how much Mom was shielding me from the world.
Life’s details are so boring; I want to get rich so I don’t have to deal with them. Or I want to die. Childish? Lola says I’m not an adolescent, but I am and always will be one. I will die an adolescent.
Now I make calendars looking ahead to December and I fantasize (in vain) about winning a $10,000 NEA fellowship then and being able to do whatever I want to do. But that’s too easy. I don’t seem able to handle my life.
Jonny is sick. Dad called from Florida and said Grandma Sylvia is very ill but refuses hospitalization (although when I spoke with her on Monday, she sounded fine).
Josh got two courses at Hunter, so he’s leaving NYCCC and will be teaching at Hunter and Pace. His term starts Friday, which kills his plans to visit Avis in Virginia. Josh’s German friend will be visiting him, so now Avis may not be able to stay with Josh.
Josh says that Avis is talking about staying in America because of him; he’s trying to convince her to go to Israel as she’d planned. How people can get that close in such a short time is a personal mystery to me.
When Avis was trying to convince Teresa to have sex, she said intimacy is natural among friends. When Teresa brought up my name, Avis said I was sexless. (Well, I’m imagining that: Teresa just told me that Avis said I was “different.”)
I don’t know if I’m better off or worse off than other people. I miss not having time for myself.
(Josh just called. John Jay just offered him two courses and he wanted to know if I wanted them. This is absurd.)
I marked all my SVA papers and now I’ve got two Kingsborough batches to get out for Friday. What a drag. But at least I won’t have any marking to do this weekend.
This morning at Kingsborough, I sat by the campus’s little beach with Jane, who’s also a fiction writer (she’s had a story in Hudson Review and is working on a novel): that was pleasant.
I had my classes write today, so I didn’t really teach. But I have over 75 papers a week to grade. And tomorrow they want me to appear at Councilman Tony Olivieri’s office.
I seem not to have time for myself, not even for my daily exercises. Things are so hectic at Kingsborough that I couldn’t even check my students’ CWAT scores. I have only $900 in the bank, my cap is coming loose, my car’s shocks have to be welded, and I’m going crazy.
And most of all, I hate kvetching like this. I could have gone to Albany and been a grad student and an adolescent again. I blew it. I hate to keep repeating myself, but life has to have more to offer than this. It certainly did this summer.
Friday, September 14, 1979
It’s only just midnight, just Friday. A few hours ago, I destroyed my right contact lens by accident.
I remembered that I had taken off my lenses but hadn’t sterilized them. I sat up, removed the lens cap, and vigorously rubbed it with a towel, forgetting that the lens was still inside. It shredded.
I started to cry. I tried to put half the lens in my left eye and then Marc came in – thank heaven for his steadiness – and helped take the piece out. Dr. Eschen is closed on Friday, and I can’t go there until Saturday.
I feel naked now, and I wonder how I will get along in my glasses. Because of my astigmatism, the floor tends to come up on me when I wear my glasses. But I’ll survive. Perhaps I was getting too dependent upon my lenses anyway.
Pete called earlier and said he saw that I was scheduled for a DEP writing course at 8 AM on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays at Brooklyn College. For a while I thought about what it would be like to be making so much money.
Ceresa Shopkow of DEP phoned, and I told her my problems; she said to come in to see her tomorrow to talk it over. She said she understood that I had to live and had to take the courses at Kingsborough, but she thought I could work it in.
Then I tore my lens. In a way, though, that helped me to things clearly. The money, the title, the lines on my résumé: none of it was worth it. I wouldn’t be fair to my students teaching so much; I’d just end up doing a half-assed job at all three schools.
I told Ceresa this. “I am a professional,” I said, “although I’m not always treated as one.” She told me that I had been the victim of departmental politics: Jemmott, the DES chairman, was trying to destroy the DEP program.
She said if I had spoken to one of the DEP people on Tuesday, I wouldn’t have gotten the runaround. “There were always courses,” she said. Jemmott said he wouldn’t know until Wednesday and then I never got called.
Ceresa said that it all happened because they wouldn’t let them hire until the last minute. “You were always the number one choice on everyone’s list,” she said – even Gelernt’s: “He said you were the only qualified person we interviewed.”
And she said, “I had to fight the English Department to get you. Bill Browne wanted you for Veterans’ Outreach courses; Neil Schaeffer, Steve Jervis and Tom Boyle all wanted you to teach English 1.”
I feel so amazed and flattered by this. “This is a tragedy,” Ceresa said. But I have learned how much I am respected as a teacher, even by Jules Gelernt, a man who seemed to despise me.
So, despite my ripped lens, I don’t feel that bad.
9 PM. Last night I was very upset, but I got through the day with my glasses. I did have some headache and dizziness, but tomorrow I can go to Dr. Eschen and order a new lens, which will come in a week.
While I’m sorry I’m not working at Brooklyn, Kingsborough has its advantages. It’s a beautiful place, and before I taught today, I again sat by the beach, watching the ocean and the seagulls and enjoying the breezy, drizzly weather.
What really disturbed me, as I said to Dr. Pasquale tonight, was that I am not Superman and couldn’t handle 18 hours of teaching a week. I got another job offer today: from Medgar Evers College.
All these options are hard to deal with. I feel I should be accepting all of these jobs. Obviously on a realistic level, I know that that’s absurd, but psychologically, I’m still a perfectionist, expecting the superhuman from myself.
I want to be in two places at the same time. I want everyone to love me, I want to be published and reviewed everywhere at once, I even want all my students to pass the CUNY Writing Test though I know that goal is unrealistic. But to some degree, I’ll feel that if my students fail, it’s my fault.
Dr. Pasquale and I talked about my need to do everything perfectly. I want to be the perfect friend, son, lover, writer, teacher, citizen. Obviously this drive has gotten me far, but it also trips me up.
Dr. Pasquale said that anyone who went through what I went through this week would naturally feel tense and upset.
As usual, he said, the reality is that I’ve coped quite well: I’ve made decisions, taught my classes, and I’ve developed a workable schedule for myself, taking into consideration my finances, free time, and other factors.
I feel Dad disapproves of my decision not to overexert myself because he has that Depression mindset that says, “If you refuse an offer now, you’ll regret it in leaner times.”
When I was at Alexander’s and unhappy, Dad called me a schmuck for leaving. When I took the job at Kingsborough last year, Dad told me to “keep your hand in” at LIU.
But Dad, who took so many lines to sell in Florida, now faces a problem: one of the lines’ bosses is coming down to the menswear show and will find out Dad broke his promise to represent him exclusively.
Besides, Dr. Pasquale says I am not like my father; my resources are greater, and I have a more positive attitude. I feel I’m getting a lot out of therapy. It’s worth it if I learn only that I’m not all that screwed-up after all. Meanwhile, despite all the tensions, I’m enjoying life.
Alice wrote a love letter to the Voice writer James Wolcott (he’s terrific, I think), and he responded with a brilliantly suggestive note; she called him, and they’re having drinks – James only drinks Cokes, he says – next week.
Alice says she may give him my book. (I wrote him weeks ago, asking him to review it.) Alice told me Stanley Siegel’s back in town; she saw him yesterday surrounded by cameras – and that reminded me that I’ve got to call him.
Teresa’s cousin, who works in a Great Neck bookstore, finally showed her a copy of Hitler. Maybe my book will sell, after all.
Alice told me I should go to the “New York Is Book Country” fair to be held all day Sunday on Fifth Avenue between 47th and 57th. There will be dozens of booths from publishers, small presses, and bookstores.
I made up a new leaflet with six excerpts from reviews. If I have the nerve, I might hand them out while wearing a sandwich-board sign like Crad Kilodney in Toronto.
Libby told me she might go to visit Brendan in South Dakota; the prairie must be beautiful this time of year.
Josh has been speaking to Avis every night. She doesn’t seem happy in Virginia, and she might not go to Florida with her parents. Avis has talked about going to graduate school with Josh, perhaps in Albany. I wonder what she’ll decide to do.
Marc has been busy making drug deals all week; tonight he showed me some cocaine in a plastic bag. Deanna has not been around all that much, and I think their relationship is cooling down.
It rained very hard tonight, the remnants of another hurricane. I think life is interesting.
Tuesday, September 18, 1979
8 PM. I think things are finally settling down. I decided to forgo an evening out with Josh and Avis and other friends tonight because I need some rest. Last night I didn’t sleep that well, and this morning I had to get up at 6:30 AM.
It’s been sunny with mild temperatures, and despite the rush hour traffic, I enjoyed my morning drive to Manhattan. I just love the smell of the Fulton Fish Market from the FDR Drive. (I also love the fresh, brackish smell of the water along the Belt Parkway.)
I had pretty good classes, both at SVA and Kingsborough, and by taking the car as quickly as I could from the Park Avenue South to the West Side, through the tunnel, and along the Belt, I made it with time to spare from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach.
From school, I went to Dr. Eschen, where I picked up my shiny new right lens. Although I had adjusted to wearing glasses, I love my lenses like they were my children.
At 3 PM, Mark Sherman, that National Enquirer photographer, called me from Kings Highway, where I told him I’d pick him up. He was a nice, arty-looking guy around 35, and we got on well.
He took several dozen snapshots of me in various locations: out by the pool, posed over the chess set in the living room, in the kitchen, by the front porch.
I was cooperative, if somewhat embarrassed: while I like to be the center of attention in print, I’m not used to being physically narcissistic.
But Mark relaxed me by talking about his career, which, like everything else, must sound more glamorous to others than it is to him. He said he spends a lot of time in airports and just waiting around. Mark does all the Enquirer’s work in the tri-state area and also freelances for most of the papers and many slick magazines.
Mark did two soap opera books. (He said Mary Stuart is a pain in the ass: “She still thinks she’s an ingenue.”) He lives in rural Jersey but has a studio in Manhattan, and yes, he went to SVA. His advice for my photography students: “Become a milkman.”
I got a call from NYCCC about teaching classes there, and of course I had to turn them down; then I drove Mark back to the train.
People didn’t run a review of Hitler this week, either – but Mark says they work very far in advance. (The Enquirer, which wanted these photos on a plane tonight, is sometimes six weeks ahead.)
Of course, as with People, there’s no guarantee that the story or a photo of me will appear. I enjoyed the session, however, and if the article does come out, it will be a bonus.
Speaking of bonuses, Rick Peabody sent me a copy of a review he did for the Baltimore City Paper:
If you like Steve Martin, you’ll love this book! Richard Grayson is a 28-year-old word wizard from Brooklyn who packs more laughs into these 27 stories than Martin managed in all of Cruel Shoes. While both men possess wild imaginations, Martin’s prose is stiff and semi-literate by comparison.
In Grayson’s world, Hitler is resurrected and visiting modern New York; Abe Lincoln hates flapjacks and lies around doing nothing while Stephen Douglas sleeps with Mary Todd; Justice Burger is deluged with fan mail; stories come to life and go to the hospital or bite novelist John Gardner on the leg at a writer’s conference. . . It is the kind of humor that has made Flann O’Brien a cult figure and which has enabled Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew to be the literary hit of the summer.
The “Families” section of the book deals with the stereotypical Jewish family and these stories are the most real, seemingly autobiographical. Grayson weaves the landscape of tradition and the heartfelt characters together with the absurdities of human relationships to tell some hard truths in these highly charged tales.
Other standouts in a book of standouts are: a story told through a series of “Classified Personal” ads; “A Note on the Type,” which parodies such notes; a story that disintegrates as it progresses; a soap opera starring the author; his notes on the flyleaf; and a fantastic cover.
Very few writers under the age of 30 have had anything published in the New York publishing world. Grayson is the beginning of a whole new wave. He deserves your attention. Steve Martin’s book may be at the top of the charts, but if there is any justice in this post-Monty Python world, Richard Grayson will be the next Vice President.
What a splendid review. God bless you, Rick Peabody!
I spoke to Simon, who’s teaching two courses each at BMCC and NYCCC, using different social security numbers. Simon said Josh hates Hunter because the department is “busting his chops” and because the Hunter students “know just enough to think they know it all.”
At first I was going to go out with the gang tonight, but finally I realized that I’m much too tired. What I want to do is go to bed early and sleep late.