Tuesday, March 11, 1975
11 PM. I almost went to sleep without writing today’s entry, but I’ve decided I must face my feelings of despair and disillusionment. My class did not go well tonight, though I suppose it could have been much worse, given the circumstances.
I can only hope that it will get better with time. If only I didn’t have to get up so early for the library tomorrow – but I couldn’t walk out on my responsibilities there just like that.
(Come to think of it, quitting in person was a big step forward for me; until now I’ve only quit jobs over the phone or just stopped showing up. So perhaps there’s still hope for me yet.)
This afternoon I rested. I got under the covers in a darkened bedroom and listened to music. I thought about how nice it would be to have a girl with me.
That’s what I miss most about not having a girlfriend: those deliciously peaceful moments lying in bed together – not so much the sex part, just the closeness, mostly.
Anyway, I got myself ready for tonight by degrees. Ultimately, I decided to skip the Fiction Workshop; seeing the people there would have just made me feel more uncomfortable, and I’d get digs from Denis and Simon, I know it.
I wasn’t particularly nervous as I parked downtown at the municipal lot and crossed Flatbush Avenue, making my way to LIU. In my mailbox, I found a faculty vitae form and the class roster that Dr. Farber gave me.
No one seemed astounded when I walked into the classroom and sat behind the desk. There I was, the teacher. I asked them if they were English 11EKL and told them I was Mr. Grayson.
One student, a girl named Ashley Mackey (obviously the self-appointed spokeswoman for the class; everyone else seemed to defer to her) told me that they’re all very upset by Dr. Hartman’s death.
Apparently they liked him very much; he was a vibrant, witty, delightful man. Only last Tuesday they were enjoying his class, and a week later he’s dead and buried, and I’m there in his place, an intruder.
(Odd: it just struck me how Spielberg must feel coming in to our Fiction Workshop in place of Baumbach. For the first time, I can appreciate his feelings.)
I told the class how awkward I felt, trying to replace a man like Dr. Hartman, a teacher with 25 years’ teaching experience. “Quite obviously,” I said, “I don’t have 25 years’ teaching experience. . . I don’t even have 25 years’ experience, period.”
The class is not at all intimidating. They are in their thirties, mostly: a lot of West Indians, some other blacks, a few Italians, a couple of Jewish guys, and a Chinese man.
They seem genuinely interested in learning to write; I collected the paragraphs that Dr. Hartman marked as well as the revisions they made on them. I asked for their cooperation for the rest of the term, as well as their patience.
They were further along in the composition text than I had figured upon, so I dismissed them early in order to give me a chance to catch up with them and to consider how to go about giving assignments.
Some people came up to me to talk after class, but I feel bitterly disappointed in myself. In the back of my mind was the idea that I was going to make them love me and respect me, but I couldn’t. There were things I wanted to say, but I was unable to be eloquent.
Still, one must consider the circumstances: it’s not like I had prepared for teaching a class at the start of a semester. They will resent me, and that’s only natural.
I finally did call Mrs. Ehrlich and she said they’re probably angry at Dr. Hartman for dying and leaving them, and they may take it out on me. I made an appointment to have a session with Mrs. Ehrlich three weeks from tonight, during my spring vacation.
Perhaps by then I shall be more at ease with “my” class. But they did seem to respect somewhat for my frankness. And maybe a big spiel on my part would have been out of place. I now see I gave too little thought to their feelings about Dr. Hartman.
Wednesday, March 12, 1975
I don’t know what’s happening to me. I lay in bed all afternoon, sleeping yet not sleeping, trying to be calm and not succeeding. I just wish I could turn back the clock to a week ago; I wish none of this business at LIU would have happened. Because of it, I’ve fallen into a deep depression.
An hour ago, when I went down to check the mail, I found an envelope addressed to “Professor Richard Grayson.” Finally I realized it was Gary’s handwriting; I opened it, and inside was the page with Prof. Hartman’s obituary.
Gary wrote something about it “trading it for Ben Blue,” who died on Saturday. I was filled with revulsion and did not read the obituary; my only thought was to get it out of my sight as quickly as possible.
I guess Gary meant well, but it seemed to me a gross lapse of good taste. Or perhaps if it were Gary who had gotten the job, his predecessor’s death wouldn’t have bothered him.
I am only just realizing what an enormous sense of guilt this whole thing has stirred up inside of me. Prof. Hartman was old enough to be my father and now I’m replacing him; it’s as though I was acting out an oedipal fantasy – hence the guilt I feel.
In a way, I see that I want to do badly, that the class wants me to do badly because they are so upset by Hartman’s death. Until Sunday, he was just a man to me. Then, when Gary read me the obituary, I knew he was not just a name but a man with a family and a career.
And yesterday, when I heard the class’s tributes to him, he became a very real human being. Somehow, in some crazy way – tell me, why are the “crazy” things always those that make the most sense psychologically? – I feel responsible for Dr. Hartman’s death.
But there are other things bothering me. For one, I find it difficult to reconcile myself with my image of what a college instructor “should” be. It’s unfortunate that I’m still working at the library this week; it makes for a kind of schizophrenia.
In the morning I’m treated like a boy, on the same level with the high school kids who work there – one of the women asked if I was leaving to go work at the new McDonald’s on Flatbush Avenue; I told her I got a tutoring job – and at night I’m given the respect of adult college students who look upon me as their teacher.
What it all comes down to is: I don’t know who I am anymore. Other things have not helped: this dreary, rainy weather we’ve been having, the lack of sleep, the fact that I haven’t heard from Rachel yet and my feeling that somehow we’ll never meet.
Just when I’m busier than I ever have been, I feel the need for a long rest to sort things out and find out who I am.
Last night Ronna called, and I’m grateful for that. She was excited by my news, but I do think she also understood how down I was feeling last night.
Ronna had just come from a New School lecture by David Schoenbrun, and she’s becoming very involved with international politics, something she knew nothing about when we were going together.
She says she’s actively looking for new employment. The pay at ARCO is lousy, and although Cathy and Gwen are very nice, Ronna’s sense of integrity is threatened when she has to hard-sell books she thinks are really lousy. ARCO publishes mostly horse books, how-to books and things like Spanish in 3,100 Steps.
Next week is Maddy’s director’s project, and we both mentioned that we’d like to see it. How will I be able to face seeing Ronna and another guy at the play?
Tonight I have a meeting of the Graduate English Students Association. I’d much rather go to a movie, but it’s my responsibility as Treasurer to attend.
Actually, I’d like to duck all my responsibilities, but I can’t; I’ll just have to muddle through. That’s what I told my class we’d do; that’s what Dad told Cousin Robin we must do. (Drew, her black boyfriend, has moved out after a big fight.)
Oh well, perhaps a story will come out of this.
Friday, March 14, 1975
I think things may just work out. If I’m not Mr. Chips, at least I can go for an hour in front of the class without my students getting up and walking out on me.
It was good yesterday to get back into the Fiction Workshop again and feel the camaraderie: Barbara and Denis arguing like a brother and sister who don’t get along, Anna sharing her chewing gum, Simon teasing Josh that his new haircut made him look like a fag.
We did Sharon’s first story: it was written in an unusual style, but the theme was obsessed Jewish schoolteacher engaged to rich law student but in love with another guy.
Spielberg hated a lot of it and called it soap opera; most of us rallied to Sharon’s defense. She had been very nervous, but she’s now finally been initiated, so to speak.
Sharon joined Denis, Simon and me for dinner at the Pub. Using her experience as a high school teacher, she tried to assuage my nervousness. “Never admit weakness,” she said – but I had already done that on Tuesday. Sharon said that just being in the role of teacher gives one some authority and respect and said that I should take advantage of that.
I had enough time to digest my meal, bid everyone goodbye and drive down Flatbush Avenue to LIU. I was stopped at the door of the Humanities building by a guard who asked if I was an undergraduate.
“I’m – er, ah – a faculty member,” I said, feeling embarrassed.
In my mailbox I found the class roster with the grades Dr. Hartman had given them on their first themes; also Dr. Farber gave me the key to the office next to his. I don’t have my own desk, but I can sit at the other teacher’s; there’s a telephone there, and an IBM typewriter.
And so Mr. Grayson went to face his students. I was acting
like as though (now I’ve got to watch my grammar) I knew what I was doing. I gave them an assignment: two chapters to read for Tuesday and a paragraph going from a general statement to specific examples for next Thursday.
The rest of the class, I just winged it: I asked them what they thought was good writing; we compared the style of the New York Times and Daily News, and “voice” in writing. After looking at the portions of Kafka’s work that I xeroxed and handed out – the same excerpts Spielberg had brought in to the Fiction Workshop, the class pretty much agreed that Kafka was too unclear to be a good writer.
I hardly faltered, although sometimes I could hear my voice trailing off. But it’s a good class; most of them seem highly motivated, and people came up to my desk after class to say whatever they felt like.
It’s going to take time, but I’ll get more rapport with them as the term goes on, and hopefully I’ll begin to feel more confident as well. Anyhow, as he drove home, Mr. Grayson noted that he had a tension headache, the first one in many months.
Today was the last time I had to get up early to go work at the library. Many of the people at the Flatbush branch have been very nice to me, and I hope to go back and visit them. Mrs. Higgins was the nicest person I ever worked for; she always was telling me to take it easy and not push myself so hard.
I got my first paycheck from the library job today — $53 – and that will come in handy now. I’m still working tomorrow afternoon, however, so my last day on the job is officially tomorrow.
It rained and snowed and hailed all day. I went to Kings Plaza for a while, and this evening I went out with Mom and Dad to dinner at the Floridian.
Marc seems to be better today – which is a relief to all of us, who were worried about him getting pneumonia; after all, Marc does have a history of that.
His girlfriend Bunny was visiting Marc and that cheered him up. I had thought she seemed immature, but then today I learned that’s she’s only 16, which explains it.
Bunny’s a lower senior at South Shore and she’s an actress in Sing this weekend. That reminds me of the South Shore Sing that Ronna and I went to two years ago, one her sister was in.
Last night at the Floridian, Mom asked me if I still missed Ronna, and I had to say, “Not really.” Oh, I miss the closeness and the touching and the intimacies, but I’ve been so busy lately, I don’t think I really have time for a girlfriend right now.
Saturday, March 15, 1975
8 PM. Driving home from Rockaway a little while ago, I felt more at peace than I have in days. Just a lazy contentment seemed to sweep over me. The moon looked like the smile of a Cheshire cat. Next week is spring, and that brings a sense of promise. Despite being girlfriend-less and therapy-less, I’ve survived the winter and thrived and flourished.
It’s given me a measure of self-confidence to know I have done well without having to see Ronna or Mrs. Ehrlich the whole winter. And I worked steadily and now I have what is a good job, doing something challenging and scary and risky and interesting.
Simon or Josh would call me Pollyanna, but I have to say it: this winter has been the best of my life, in terms of promoting personal growth. Bad things have happened, like Grandma Sylvia’s accident, but at least I know I reacted to them positively; Aunt Sydelle told me Grandma Sylvia treasured the letter I sent her.
Apart from that, there have been disappointments, but I can weather them: today’s mail is a case in point. I didn’t get a letter from Rachel. It’s been two weeks since I wrote her that long, tortured (but real) letter and enclosed Carl Rogers’ “significant learnings” and my story “Roman Buildings.”
I think it was too much, too soon, and that I overwhelmed Rachel, who may have decided to end the relationship. If that’s true, I’m sad, but I’m not sorry we achieved what we did: a closeness, a communication – for a time, anyway – between strangers, and I shall always cherish Rachel’s letters.
Today’s mail also brought another disappointment, a rejection from the American Review. It was disappointing but not discouraging, for their last issue stated they accept only .05% of submissions.
I finished “New Haven and Other Fantasies” this evening. Finally, after much soul-searching, I decided the best way to present it was to keep it as close to Michael Montgomery’s letter as possible.
I suppose that could be considered coldly calculating, or even plagiarism, but it’s something I think needs to be told: the story of a young homosexual with beautiful romantic ideals, which in the end prove to be fantasies that can never come true.
I’ve been feeling a bit more homosexual lately. Today I noticed how cute Dougie Solomon, my co-worker at the library, is. There’s very little guilt involved anymore when I think another guy is cute; I’ve gotten so far beyond that.
As we were closing up today and had to rush getting books off the lift, our hands kept touching, and I enjoyed it, and I think maybe Dougie might have, too.
I don’t have to worry anymore about being labeled as a homosexual, for I know that’s not what I am: homosexuals don’t have dreams of making love to women almost every night the way I do.
I don’t even care to label myself as bisexual anymore. I’m just me, Richie, Mr. Grayson. Né Richard Arnold Ginsberg, and I am what I feel at any given moment. (I hope I brought that across in “New Haven and Other Fantasies.”) I only know that at times I feel more like me than I did before, and I feel really good at those times.
I’m going to miss the Flatbush branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Somehow I became very fond of my post on the mezzanine (Dewey decimal system numbers 000-799) and I got protective of “my” books. I enjoyed working for Mrs. Higgins and Mrs. Tobey and the others, and they all said they would miss me.
Today was the last day working there, but the first time I worked until closing and got to see (and take pleasure in) the ritual of shutting the lights and clearing the tables and straightening out the shelves so that the books will be there and ready when people come in when they open the doors on Monday morning.
I look upon the library as a totally positive experience in my life, and it will make for good memories. Directly after work, I drove to the beach and had dinner with Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel.
Grandma Ethel made tuna and salmon and eggs and challah, and it was good. I told them about my teaching experiences this week, and they told me family gossip (Micki is better and out of the hospital, and Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney hope to return to Florida shortly) and also how they’re raising their rent. With inflation, it’s so hard on old people nowadays.
For some reason, last night I dreamed that Grandma Ethel’s late friend Mrs. Luria made me mouth-watering potato pancakes. When I awoke, my pillow was moist with saliva.
Monday, March 17, 1975
My car was stolen during the night. I was awakened by Mom this morning; she wanted to know where I parked the car.
I told her that I parked in front of our neighbors’, two houses down, but when I looked out my window, there was another car in that space. The realization came to us slowly. First I thought, No, I must have parked it somewhere else. I tried to think of a rational explanation for the car not being there.
We called the police and they came right over: the same two officers who were here when there was a shot through the master bedroom window. They took all the information and were pretty helpful. The officers said the recovery rate of stolen vehicles in Brooklyn is good, but they couldn’t guarantee what kind of shape the car would be in if they found it.
Mom called the insurance company (the car is registered in her name) and gave them the facts. We can rent a car for thirty days, starting Wednesday, and the insurance will cover it. Mom and I will probably go down tomorrow morning to rent a car.
In the car, I had a lot of library books and my copies of Josh’s stories that we are going to do in class tomorrow. Also my own books were in the car – among them the Kafka and Mann texts that I was going to use to write the paper that’s due tonight. But I’m so upset over the whole thing that I’m just going to forget about class tonight.
I know the car is only a machine, but I’ve gotten so fond of my little gold Comet. It was my graduation present, and though I feel a bit foolish admitting this, I had developed a relationship with my car; I suppose I attributed human qualities to it.
I’m full of rage, but there’s no one to direct it to. Old Mr. Capiello called me over: he had found a yarmulke where my car had been parked and thought it was mine. I told him I wasn’t carrying a yarmulke, and he said, “Well, maybe one of your own kind took it.”
(Just as a conservative is a liberal who’s just been mugged, I suppose we never feel anti-Semitism is a problem until we experience it personally.)
I called up Josh and we went out looking for the car in all the places where someone might dump it, like off the Belt Parkway in Bergen Beach or Gerritsen Beach. We saw a car that looked like it at Plum Beach, but it turned out to be a Maverick.
On reflection, I do believe that the yarmulke belonged to me. I wore my overcoat over my sport jacket last Tuesday night to teach at LIU, and now I remember finding a yarmulke in the coat pocket; it had been there, probably, from Ronna’s seder last year. (It’s from a bar mitzvah of some kid named Mitchell in Washington, D.C.)
I called Alice this afternoon to tell her that now I know how her brother must have felt when his car was stolen. In her Times Op-Ed article, Alice had written that we can’t count on possessions, that we can’t really own anything – and I guess my experience proves Alice’s point.
I was so dependent on my car, and now I feel lost in a very real sense, the way I did when I broke up with Shelli or Ronna or when I had to stop therapy with Mrs. Ehrlich.
Which reminds me: I did call Ronna last night. She’s been ill, and she’s been preparing for Felicia’s shower on Saturday. We had a friendly talk, and we agreed we both had strong sexual desires for the other.
But I don’t want to see her, because, as Ronna said, there’s nothing really going for us anymore. I wish I had someone to talk to now, someone whose shoulder I could cry on.
I’m deeply hurt and disappointed about Rachel’s not answering my letter, and today I feel more alone than I have a in a long time. I’m sinking into the lethargy of depression and I can feel it, but I don’t know how to stop it.
Wednesday, March 19, 1975
3 PM. I’ve soared several light years above my low point yesterday. If I had just hung on a little longer before writing yesterday’s self-pitying diary entry, my faith would have been restored. It’s a good lesson for me to learn: that you should just try to endure a bit longer because you never know what’s coming next.
I did my exercises and took a Valium and then went off to BC. Our Fiction Workshop was fun; we went over one of Josh’s stories. Most of us found this particular story better than much of the stuff Josh has been writing; it was still concerned with the grotesque, but Josh had more control over his wilder impulses.
Spielberg didn’t like the story, though, but everyone expected that. Still, he is becoming less uptight and the class is developing real camaraderie again.
It was actually relaxing to drive the rental car downtown. I had dinner at the counter of Junior’s and then walked over to my office.
I felt much better – calmer, more optimistic – as I sat in the desk, where I made a phone call to Mikey and told him the news about my teaching job and my stolen car.
Mikey said he’s been eating, sleeping and dreaming his thesis, but that it’s not going as quickly as he’d hoped it would; still, he figures to have it done by the end of the term.
I picked up a copy of the CUNY Voice and noted that Jay Hershenson was unanimously reelected chairman of the University Student Senate; I was surprised, and glad, to see that Paul Nelson of Richmond is the new vice-chairman for graduate affairs.
My class went well: better than I expected it would. I’m developing confidence and a rapport with my students. We had a lesson on wordiness, going over exercises in our handbook.
I can see that someday I will be a good teacher. Right now I’m an adequate, well-meaning teacher who’s unsure of himself but tries hard.
I felt good as I drove down Flatbush Avenue back to my house. After receiving a message to phone Mike, I called him. Mike had heard my news from Mikey, who was over his house. Mike expressed his congratulations and condolences about teaching and the car.
He’s got a few more credits to finish up, and then he’s going to try to get into a graduate program in Educational Psych; he’s not even going to bother applying to Clinical programs. And Mike is also being a locksmith these days. Elaine Taibi asked Mike to write up a letter to the June grads from the Alumni Association, like the one Maddy, Karen and I signed last year.
Mike put Cindy on the line; she’s still a living doll. Unfortunately, she got laid off from the Empire Boulevard real estate office and is once again unemployed. She plans to return to Brooklyn College again this summer.
At about 10:45 PM last night, Dad got a call from the 75th Precinct, from a Detective Olsen. He was a bit confused but said that my car was spotted by a Housing Authority patrolman on Loring Avenue in East New York during the afternoon.
The detective couldn’t understand why they didn’t pick up the car or the Hispanic man they saw driving it, but he said they would investigate further.
I woke up at 11 AM today and figured I’d do a little investigating on my own. And sure enough, driving around, I spotted my Comet in a parking lot of a city project on Loring and Autumn. Excitedly, I phoned the police, and a radio car came down. A detective drove my car to the precinct house and I followed him in my rental car.
We examined the car: my books were gone and my spare pair of glasses had been broken, the ignition was broken off so they could start it without a key, and the glove compartment had been vandalized, with papers strewn about (our registration was missing). There were a bunch of wrappers from candy and Hostess Twinkies on the floor. (The detective told me heroin addicts eat a lot of sweets.)
Also, whoever stole the car must have doubled as a purse snatcher because there was some woman’s pocketbook in the back seat. Weirdly, although my library books were missing, there were two other library books there, not mine: Adelle Davis’ Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and a touch-typing manual. (It would be funny if the thief returned my books when he borrowed these.)
I filled out forms with the detective, and we made sure that the alarm for the stolen car was rescinded so I could take it home. And pretty soon, I was driving my old Comet again. It handled fairly well, but it was as if it had gone through a traumatic experience.
I took a cab back to East New York to retrieve the rental car from the precinct house; then Mom and I took my car over to the body shop. The insurance inspector will come down, and after that, they’ll repair the damage. In the meantime, I can still drive the rental car.
I feel a great sense of accomplishment, having handled everything by myself. Now I can rest and read the letter I got from Rachel.
Friday, March 21, 1975
3 PM on a glorious first day of spring. I feel good about everything. I’ve just ended the best (yes, the best) winter of my life and now there’s the promise of beautiful weather, good times, good friends, writing, teaching and maybe even love ahead for me.
I’m completely exuberant and joyous. Yesterday I went over to Josh’s and we hung around until it was time for our class. Again, I got a near-unanimous rave for my story, and even Spielberg praised “Early Warnings” as a good portrait of childhood.
So it was with renewed faith in myself as a writer that I drove downtown to put myself in the role of college instructor. I again had dinner at Junior’s; I wouldn’t mind if a hamburger with smothered onions and their little roll of Pep-O-Mint Lifesavers becomes a ritual.
At the counter as I ate, I mulled over the good things in my life. Both Baumbach and Spielberg said they’d recommend me for an assistantship in the fall.
My class went well again. I’m learning who everybody is, and by now they’re beginning to treat me as their instructor. At times I feel like I’m losing them, but I try to recapture their attention before long.
Last night I dreamed that I overheard one of my students telling someone what a great young teacher they had, but whether it’s true or not, it’s certainly a good sign of my own self-perception and self-confidence.
Oddly enough, I feel more dynamic, and yes, even sexier, than I’ve ever been before. It’s a combination of things: the self-assurance I now feel as a teacher and writer and man, the way I can handle myself.
Also, thanks to my regular exercises, I feel more virile; my body is firmer and finally I can open a couple of buttons of my shirt and reveal hair on my chest. Silly thing, but it’s just part of my feeling more alive.
I like my new regimen: I can do work until 1 AM, as I did last night, getting stories ready to be mailed out to little magazines. This morning I went to LaGuardia to meet Mikey and Mike.
Before that, I had to see Ms. Brennan in Central Depository and make another appointment to go over the Graduate English Association’s books. Marie called last night, and she’s rightfully annoyed that I haven’t paid the bills yet.
She’s also upset because the Junction people are getting out of hand: they want to open the magazine to contributors across the country, and she said that she, Debbie, and I have to put an end to the editors’ shenanigans. Marie left for Florida this morning, so I hope to get everything in order by the time she returns.
Mike and Mikey were reading Kingsman when I met them in LaGuardia. For the first time, President Kneller is facing the wrath of the faculty. It’s because he finally hit them where it hurts, their pocketbook and their prestige: he denied 41 promotions.
It was like old times in LaGuardia as various people came over: Alex, Leroy, Kathy (who’s still into Special Ed, and for once, did not kiss me on the lips).
Mike had a meeting with Hilary Gold, so Mikey and I went to lunch at Campus Corner, where we were joined by Mason, who’d just walked over from his student teaching at South Shore.
It was good to see Mason again after all these months; the phrase “sight for sore eyes” really applied. We had an enjoyable lunch. Mikey told us he has a Monday appointment with the Manhattan D.A.’s office; he’s hoping to land some sort of job there.
Mason said he’s busy teaching and he’s going away with his folks to Florida in the Winnebago again for spring vacation because he has no money to do anything else.
When Mikey went to the library to get back to work on his thesis, I said I’d drive Mason home to Rockaway. But first he had to go into LaGuardia to call Carl Karpoff about buying a tent.
While I was there, I sat with Mara, who’s been accepted into grad school at Michigan and Maryland for TV. At this point she plans to go to Ann Arbor, but she’ll see what financial aid each school offers.
I know that when she goes away, she’ll greatly miss her boyfriend, who’s leaving tonight for Florida with his parents.
Mara’s been working for “Senator J” and said there are now women sitting in at his office full-time, protesting his pro-aid to Indochina stance.
Frank came along to give Mason a long rap on yoga, so Mara and I went over to talk to Sean. I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned seeing Spring at Columbia – Sean stared at me blankly after I said it – but let’s face it, I’m a mischief-maker at heart.
I drove Mason and Mara in my rented white Comet: Mara to Kings Plaza, Mason home to the beach. On the way home on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, I noticed Ivan and Vicky in the car ahead of me, but I didn’t bother to catch up with them.
Today actually feels like spring.