Wednesday, May 21, 1975
It’s a hot night.
Josh called yesterday afternoon with very bad news: his sister is gravely ill. I said how sorry I was, and Josh said, “I’m sure you couldn’t care less.” That hurt, but I know Josh by now and I knew how upset he was.
He came into my room a bit later and said, “I think my sister’s dying.” He was trying not to cry, and he apologized for what he’d said on the phone but of course I told him to forget it.
A friend of Hope’s called Josh’s parents. Hope has been living in California for a year. The Hodgkins returned, only worse (before it was in Phase 1, and now it’s the final stage, Phase 4), but Hope didn’t want to notify her family.
After her friend’s call, they called the hospital, which said they needed Hope’s record from Long Island College Hospital before they could operate.
Josh had just come from driving his parents to the airport to catch the first flight to Sacramento. I felt so bad for Josh, and so helpless.
I had been in the middle of marking finals and watching Another World, but what I was doing seemed so useless and ridiculous.
Yet my class finished the semester and took their finals despite the death of their first instructor, and when actors on the soap opera get written out, the storyline goes on.
We left for class together and had drinks beforehand. I saw Stefanie with Melvin (and also Carol) and everything looked cool between the two of them; I’m glad. Melvin said that this summer he’s either going to finish his Incompletes or torture himself for not doing it.
In our Fiction Workshop, we went over a story by Anna. Peter canceled class for Thursday, so we only have left the two sessions next week. After class, I went to Sugar Bowl with Todd, Simon and Sharon.
Denis called me and said he’s got a well-paying job waxing floors in a Madison Avenue office building from 5:30 to 11 PM, so he won’t be coming back to class for the rest of the term. And Barbara hasn’t shown up in weeks, not since Peter threatened her with an Incomplete.
I woke up at 3 AM today and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I wrote for a while and then lay in bed thinking, mostly about Josh’s sister. Today I went to the beach in Neponsit and lay in the hazy sun, reading Herzog.
I passed Ivan’s house and noticed the door was open and the maid was cleaning. I am still very curious as to what goes on in that house when the door is closed. To me, Ivan’s family represents the ideal, but they must have some flaws.
A letter in today’s mail from Herb Leibowitz said that the M.A. Committee waived the requirement that the thesis be critical; that was fast work. Prof. Leibowitz is such a nice guy; he wrote that he agrees with Ebel that my thesis merits Honors.
But I have to hand in another copy, with the pages consecutively numbered, a title page, and a table of contents. So that will be more work. He said he’d like me to take care of it “before the fireflies of summer appear.”
I xeroxed my check from New Writers and now I’m beginning to get excited again about seeing “Rampant Burping” in print. Once again I grow hopeful about my career.
I’m trying to anticipate Friday’s interview by Prof. Kramer, but I’ve learned that neither Josh nor Simon nor Denis, who also applied for the assistantship, has been called for an interview.
I’ve definitely decided to take a language course at the Graduate Center this summer. Leibowitz said that when I pass the language exam in September, Richmond College will award me my M.A. I want to get that out of the way completely.
Besides, I supposedly also need a foreign language for the Creative Writing program. Can it be possible that by next June – a year from now – I’ll be Richard Grayson, B.A., M.A., M.F.A.?
Gary (or “Monsieur Gary,” as he signed himself) wrote from Strasbourg – a typical tourist’s aerogramme. He loves the sights, the foods and the wines.
Bill Beer and his girlfriend proved themselves to be excellent hosts, although they returned to the States this weekend (they were anxious to get home after eight months) and left Gary, who doesn’t understand a word of French, by himself.
The Strasbourg weather is fine and there are no newspapers or TV to bother him; Gary claims that Alsatians have never heard of showers or deodorants. And he said he’d write from either Amsterdam or Great Britain, so I guess he’s not going to see Avis in Germany after all.
This evening I looked so good, more attractive than I’ve ever looked. I am tan and wearing a work shirt and dungarees. After dinner by myself in Kings Plaza, I thought of picking Ronna up at the station. But I decided that I should call her house first, which was a good move because her mother said something about her going to a party at WBCR.
Henry again! He seems to be always with her now. I guess they are boyfriend and girlfriend again; at least his friends seem to think so. But I don’t think Ronna loves him. I can’t imagine Henry and Ronna sharing the passionate intensity she and I did.
I felt very depressed. If she had gone back to Ivan, that I could understand. But Henry’s a solid, dependable, dull Boy Scout.
I wanted to go out, and I wanted to be with a woman friend, and only a woman, to talk to. But Elayne and Mara and Alice were all out, and when I called Stacy, whose sinuses were bothering her, we talked pleasantly and she invited me over on Monday but not tonight.
Finally I decided to go to Cedarhurst; I should have gone to see Uncle Monty before. Also, I wanted to do something constructive and see what people’s real problems are so I can see how trivial my concerns are by contrast.
I interrupted the tail end of their dinner in Cedarhurst. Bonnie and her boyfriend Ted were there, and so was her twin, up from Florida; it had been years since I’d seen my step-cousins.
Monty looks pale and somehow fragile (or is that in my mind?). He’s getting those treatments and he goes out to see customers a little, but there’s no real business; still, just doing nothing depresses him, he told me. We’ve never been close, yet I feel so badly for him now.
Aunt Sydelle did the dishes while the rest of us sat outside on the patio. How I’ve always loved that backyard in Cedarhurst! Our conversation was interrupted every two minutes by another plane landing at Kennedy Airport.
Aunt Sydelle is flying to Chicago for Scott’s graduation on Friday; his girlfriend is picking her up at O’Hare and she’ll be back home that night. Scott and his girlfriend are driving his car back to New York and won’t return until Sunday.
I liked talking with Ted and my twin stepcousins although they’re all very quiet. Still, a family evening was a good antidote to my earlier self-absorption.
Friday, May 23, 1975
I’ve just showered, shaved, and washed and styled my hair. I’m not going out, but it’s good for me to get cleaned up as if I were.
Last evening I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and take myself out, do something on my own that I would have preferred to do with another person. So I drove into Manhattan and hung out in the car until 6 PM, when it became legal to park, and had a pleasant dinner in the Village Art Restaurant.
Then I walked up the block (avoiding Elaine Taibi, who was across the street) to the Eighth Street Playhouse, where I used my student discount to see Vittorio De Sica’s A Brief Vacation.
The film was beautiful, haunting; after seeing it, I felt that I had had a brief vacation. It was after 8 PM when I left the theater and just beginning to get dark.
I had a pleasant twilight drive back into Brooklyn during which I thought a lot about the things that Mason had said: how another “perfect couple,” Brendan and Louise, have broken up, and all about the nonsense currently going on in Madison.
Mason had told me that Shelli called him. She’s in from Madison, without Jerry, to visit her parents. Madison sounds so insane; there is a whole soap opera there, with everyone sleeping with everyone else.
Then there’s a “war” between Leon and this rich woman who collects men that started on the dance floor of a disco when Leon asked her to dance. So now Leon and this woman are leaders in a battle which has numerous skirmishes among other individuals.
Elihu wrote to Madison asking for gossip about it, and Leon wrote him a letter filled with made-up things and closed by saying, “Elihu, we don’t need another sieve in Madison.”
All of these people seem to be on welfare, too. Everyone there sounds so fucked-up. But am I doing anything that’s more constructive?
Then, as I made my way into Brooklyn last night, I thought about my students’ exams and how giving them their final grades is agonizing, though I should have it all done by Tuesday.
I wonder whether I’m marking them too high or too low. They are people to me, people I like, and I have to assign them letters of value.
On Farragut Road, I had this odd feeling that the red light I was waiting for was not going to change. And it didn’t. It was so weird. I felt a pins-and-needles sensation throughout my body, and I realized it was pent-up anger, uncontrollable rage at things out of my control.
(I’m sure there’s a logical reason for the traffic light; probably I noticed, subconsciously, that it hadn’t changed for a long time.)
Mostly I was furious with Ronna for not calling me and for being so close with Henry. I felt that I, at least, never made any pretense of unselfishness while Ronna always talks about it and ends up behaving as selfishly as I do.
I thought of how I dread listening to Ronna talk about her job. Mason said he just stopped listening to Libby when she talks about certain subjects.
Now I know that my fury was childish. Mrs. Ehrlich and I used to discuss how I hated not having control over different situations.
Ronna did call, after 10 PM. She said, “I’m sorry for not calling sooner, but I’ve been out every night.”
“Uh, look,” I said, “I really can’t talk right now. I have company.”
We said we’d speak to each other another day. I know avoiding her, and my anger, probably isn’t the best way to deal with the situation, but the words flowed out of me as if by protective instinct.
And of course I hoped she might think I was with a girl and be jealous. I dislike operating that way, but at the time it seemed the easiest thing to do.
One thing from this business: I can finally understand Ivan’s attitude toward me, which must have been the same as mine towards Henry. Namely, how can Ronna go out with this schlemiel after seeing me?
This morning was my interview with Prof. Kramer, who said there may be no funds at all for the assistantships. (Every day the papers are full of the city budget crisis; it’s really a catastrophic thing.) But he said he’d go along tentatively on the assumption that the funds will be there.
I talked about my views of freshman composition, and we discussed D.H. Lawrence and the MFA program and other things. I think the interview went well; I was myself, which is all I could be.
Kramer said they would get in touch with me later – if he thought I was any good, that is. In any case, I won’t hear anything until early July.
I spent the rest of the day lolling around on the beach, where I saw Ivan’s dog Tiger, and generally goofing off after that. I want to saturate myself in lazy decadence now so that when summer really comes, I can feel like going about getting a job.
It would be nice to stay at Josh’s apartment while he’s away; it’s a good opportunity. But I keep thinking of reasons not to do it: money, no air-conditioning, money, alternate parking, money. . . I wonder how Josh’s sister is.
Monday, May 26, 1975
A kind of manic Memorial Day. This morning I drove into Manhattan and went to the old U.S. Customs House (a magnificent building) to the Second New York Book Fair.
Last summer I went to the first one, at the Cultural Center on Columbus Circle – that place owned by Huntington Hartford.
All the small presses and little magazines and various feminist, Third World, gay and radical publications had set up exhibits, just like last year’s. It was a kind of huge candy store for me, going from table to table collecting leaflets and catalogues, and looking somewhat wistfully at all the books, pamphlets and magazines I could not afford to buy, and signing up for mailing lists.
At the table for The Magazines – six fairly well-known publications including Fiction (published by Mark Mirsky at CCNY – his new novel just came out, published by the Fiction Collective) and Partisan Review, I saw a somewhat familiar figure with a Parnassus head visor.
I asked him if he was Herb Leibowitz and he said yes and I told him I was Richard Grayson. He said he enjoyed many parts of my thesis, particularly “The Peacock Room.” I thanked him for the kind words and told him I’d drop off the other copy of my thesis at his office so I can get my M.A. this summer.
He said they’re having a meeting of the M.A. Committee on Wednesday, and they’re probably going to eliminate the comprehensive exam.
I told him I was teaching at LIU and said I’d see him around. He’s the editor of Parnassus: Poetry in Review and a frequent book reviewer for the Sunday Times.
The Fiction Collective had a table, but the coordinator of it, Peggy Humphreys, wouldn’t be there until Wednesday.
Moving from table to table, I felt surrounded by kindred spirits: poets, fiction writers, literary people. (It probably was a great place to get laid; various black-stockinged girls with granny glasses and long dresses were similarly moseying along.)
I came across the New Writers table and introduced myself to the editors, Connie Glickman and Miriam Easton (both pleasant, Jewish and 40ish), whom I’ve corresponded with.
They showed me Volume 2, Number 3 of New Writers with my story in it; I decided to buy a couple of copies even though they said they’d just mailed my contributor’s copies out to me.
They said I should send them another manuscript. It felt surprisingly good to see my name and “Rampant Burping” in print; I was more than a little excited, and when I came home, Mom and Dad made a semi-big fuss over the magazine.
Lest I should get a big head, however, I ran into an editor from a little magazine who had rejected “Alice Keppel.” I didn’t say who I was, but got to talking to him, and he said he always sent criticism except when rejecting manuscripts of no value whatsoever.
Needless to say, I got my story returned that way, without even a note.
But I feel at home in the semi-underground, somewhat counterculture literary world. I see it’s much easier to publish poetry than fiction and much easier if you’re a woman (and probably easier still if you’re a lesbian).
Alice, my own friendly neighborhood little publisher, came over this afternoon after finishing the latest issue of Henrietta. We had a raucous time, for Alice is still the best raconteuse money can’t buy; even Mom and Dad think Alice is a genuine original, a kook.
We watched Another World (Steve Frame was killed in a copter crash today; the actor playing him had demanded better scripts and was summarily fired) and took a test in the issue of Cosmopolitan that Alice brought over, to see what kind of lover we are. (Apparently I’m a manic lover, Alice an eros type.)
Alice saw Mr. Blumstein again yesterday at the Washington Square art show – she’s so crazy about him – and then went to meet Andreas.
Alice says I must see the apartment (she still calls it “Renee’s place” for lack of a better name): they’ve painted a fake fireplace on the wall, with a cat sitting on top of it.
Tuesday, May 27, 1975
8 PM. My sinuses are throbbing worse than they have in many months; it’s been a terribly humid day and that’s the cause. Perhaps we’ll have a thunderstorm; maybe one would clear the air.
I’ve just been looking over a recently finished story, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” an expanded version of an earlier fiction. I enjoy being deliberately obscure; it’s an elitist form of literature, but my latest Mensa membership card arrived today, and I can’t pretend to be less intelligent or well-read than I am.
I really don’t think I am particularly well-read, but when I compare myself to the other people in the MFA program, I seem to know everything. Today in the workshop, we did my slight piece of humor, “The Virtues of Jethro,” along with a rather clever story by Sharon.
Nobody, not even Spielberg, knew who Jethro was. Todd asked if he was the character on The Beverly Hillbillies TV show, and it was obvious that they’d never heard of Jephthah or Laban, either. Not to have read the Bible! It appalls me.
I’m particularly appalled and galled by Simon’s smugness; he acted as if the Bible was a complete irrelevancy. How can you hope to understand literature, much less call yourself a creator of literature, without knowing the basics (not only the Bible, of course).
Also, I’m completely turned off by Simon’s snide attitude. He didn’t know what the New York Book Fair was and said he never reads the Sunday Times Book Review. That is the very least you can do if you’re going to call yourself a serious writer – and at the pizzeria tonight, Simon said that he was a serious writer but I’m not.
Last night I looked through old papers: fragments of poems, plays and novels that I was writing seven, eight years ago. I guess I shouldn’t get so exasperated with Simon; after all, today I could show him one of my stories in a magazine and not vice versa.
Last evening I called Ronna and again got her mother; this time Ronna was out on a hike. I’m not going to call her again and feel humiliated. It’s obvious that she’s got a busy, satisfying life of her own which does not include me, and while I’m upset, Ronna deserves to be happy and I wish her only good things.
This morning I went to LIU and handed in my grades to the Registrar. I was a bit disappointed to see that she wasn’t more surprised to see such a young instructor.
At the English Department, I handed in my keys and class’s papers and rollbook to Margaret, the secretary. Then Dr. Farber told me to come into his office, where I gave him the letter I wrote, explaining that I wasn’t sure I’d see him.
He said he may have something for me in the fall, that I should contact him around September 10, registration time; there might even be a Creative Writing class (that would be too much to hope for).
I asked if Elihu had left for Madison yet, and Dr. Farber said that Elihu wasn’t sure exactly what he was doing this summer. We shook hands, and I left to get some chores done.
I took out money from the bank and cashed the check from New Writers, then bought Vitamin C and graduation cards for Mason, Mara and Alex; I also washed the car.
Dad is resting a little easier tonight. Today the IRS auditor, an Orthodox guy about my age, came up to “the place,” and everything’s clear. Now Dad can stop going crazy making financial diary entries for the past few years.
I’m worried about Josh. He wasn’t in class, and afterwards I went to his apartment and no one was home.
I finally got Robbie on the phone, and he said that Josh hasn’t been home lately. Robbie seemed to be deliberately vague, as if Josh had asked him not to tell people anything so I didn’t press it.
Josh asked me not to mention his sister’s death to the people in the class, but I did tell Peter Spielberg because I didn’t want him to think Josh was goofing off. “Shit,” Peter said. “What else can I say?”
Gary sent a postcard from Amsterdam; he’s enjoying himself and is relaxed but he’s caught a pesky head cold. Right now my own head feels like it’s trapped in a vise. The one aspect of summer weather that I can’t stand is the humidity or whatever allergies cause this discomfort.
Thursday, May 29, 1975
8:30 PM. The sun is just setting. There’s a message on my desk to call Elihu, but I want to get myself together before I speak to him. I’m afraid his father will want to speak to me after having read my letter and my class’s papers; maybe Dr. Farber wants to tell me what a lousy job of teaching I did.
Tonight I’m terribly down on myself. Last night Ronna called and said she would have phoned earlier, but she went camping upstate for the weekend. She told me about the American Booksellers Association convention and how she’s quitting ARCO, but most of our conversation was a disaster.
The bad connection on the line seemed symbolic of how little we were connecting. There was no friendship there, no good humor; we were playing games: oh I saw the Lehman Collection and A Brief Vacation and oh but someone took me to see a Broadway show and Shampoo.
It was all quite depressing: there was no honesty because I, for one, was afraid to be vulnerable. She got a call on the other line and I know it was either Henry or another guy that she’s seeing. I’m sure she’s very serious about someone because she’s out all the time.
Tonight I called to see if we could possibly thrash things out. Even Sue said, “Oh, my sister never comes home anymore; she’s always gallivanting about.”
So I guess that closes the book on any relationship between Richard Grayson and Ronna Caplan. Our conversation yesterday ended like this:
She: So maybe I’ll see you on the beach this weekend – or around.
Me: (jokingly) Is that a threat?
She: Yep. Maybe if you’re not doing anything, you can call. [But she’s never home!] Maybe even if you are doing something . . .
Me: Okay, goodbye.
I was being a bastard, but I wanted to be. I figure it’s better if she dislikes me rather than feels sorry for me for being alone while she’s got someone. It’s not honest, I know, but it worked with Shelli: it choked off any feeling she had for me and let her make a new life with Jerry.
So Ronna should forget about me and be happy elsewhere. I can picture her talking about our conversations to her boyfriend, the way she used to tell me about Ivan’s calls.
It’s sad and it’s a shame, but maybe it’s the way things work out in life. It is a blow to my ego to know that Ronna can be happy with somebody else, but it also means that the same thing is possible for me.
Suddenly I keep remembering something Consuelo Savage told me years ago, at Allan’s party after my breakup with Shelli: “People should bounce back from these things.”
And I think of the sand at the beach last night. After I left Grandpa Nat’s, I walked on the boardwalk and watched the Army Corps of Engineers pump the sand and water onto the beach to restore it. We live in the land of American know-how, after all, and anything can be restored.
The last Fiction Workshop of the term was today. We were only five, as we have been lately, minus Josh and Denis and Barbara, none of whom have shown up in weeks.
We went over two stories by Todd and then talked afterwards, not really wanting to leave. Peter Spielberg came to like us, I think, and admire our rapport, and in the end we came to like him.
I’m really going to miss this term, and the Tuesday-and-Thursday-from-4:30-to-6:00-PM workshop. As Peter left, I stood up and started applauding, the way they do in law school.
The five of us went to Sugar Bowl afterwards and lingered over soft drinks. I think we are all going to miss one another, but it’s only three months or so until September.
Anna took the subway to New York, Todd drove Simon to his shrink, and I drove Sharon home to Marine Park. Sharon’s a fine person, not a JAP at all. She said Susan Schaeffer greatly admired me, and that was nice to hear.
This morning I went to Telepathy and Joe cut my hair short, shorter than it’s been in years. Once again I have ears. But Joe himself has short hair now, and he said that styles change and hippie times are over and we’ve got to keep up with things and live in the present.
I think that’s a good thought to dwell upon.
Friday, May 30, 1975
It’s a drizzly Friday evening, and I don’t mind being home alone, as I was out all day. Elihu just wanted to chat last evening after he finally finished his course work and having just come back from a few days in Providence.
I asked Elihu when he was going to Madison and he said he’d stay there only a few days, not the entire summer as he’d originally planned.
“Everyone seems to be getting on everyone else’s nerves there,” he said, virtually confirming what Shelli had told Mason of the “wars” and Leon’s nasty letter.
Elihu will work for his temporary agency for a while, then do some traveling in June, using a special Allegheny Airlines fare to visit Providence, Madison, Boston and Vermont, where Ellen and Wade are living in Middlebury and running a movie house in Burlington. Then, in August, Elihu will tutor at LIU again.
I asked him about Ellen’s party. He said he enjoyed it and that Wade is really nice.
This morning I was awakened by a call from Mara, who thanked me for the graduation card. We arranged that I would pick her up at 11:30 AM, and we’d spend the day together.
Mara always manages to look good even if she lacks self-confidence. (Ronna used to say how Mara never had a hair out of place or a pimple – but she actually does, sometimes.)
Last week Mara went to Ohio to see the school, and the visit pretty much made her mind up: she’ll go to the University of Maryland. Athens, Ohio, is in the middle of nowhere, a two-hour bus ride from Columbus.
In fact, Mara missed the last bus out of town and had to spend $12 for the night in the University Motel, where, in the shower, she kept remembering the scene from Psycho – but then, she just took a Hitchcock class at BC.
The Ohio campus is pretty, but the college radio station is Country & Western, and that says it all. At Maryland, she’ll be near Washington, in the Jewish suburbs, close to Phyllis: better off all around.
Mara and I went to BC, where she bought a Class of ’75 tassel (she’s wearing Phyllis’ gown from last year) and handed in her final term paper. Now she’s a free woman. In three weeks, she’ll be going to that camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where she’ll be a TV counselor.
Yesterday was Mara’s last day working for Senator Javits, and she was assigned to go to Bloomingdale’s to return a $60 tennis racket that Barbara Walters bought Javits. To Mara’s disappointment, they didn’t give her a farewell party in the office.
After we left Brooklyn College, Mara and I went to Kings Plaza to see Cabaret. Even though we both had seen it a couple of times, it was still worthwhile, especially since the box office lady thought we were under 18 and we got in for only $1.50 each.
I enjoyed the movie and Mara’s company; I like to spend time in the presence of alluring women, even when we’re not lovers. (And even at this point in our friendship, I wouldn’t mind making love to Mara, as absurd as that sounds.)
We ate a very late lunch/early dinner in the Mill Basin Kosher Deli and shared gossip. Mara told me that Helen is due in from California soon and that Stanley Hoffman, the novelist, is after Karin as well as Stacy.
When I told her of Ronna’s dates with Henry, Mara said, “That’s not just a step down from you; that’s a whole flight of stairs.”
“Dear, sweet, accurate Mara,” I said.
I took her home late this afternoon; she said she’d call me next week to tell me how her road test and graduation went.
At the house, I got this week’s issue of Henrietta from Alice. In the classified section, below “Robert W: Welcome Back to Brooklyn, Which is More Fun than London,” was this notice: “Happy birthday on June 4 to My Oldest Friend, R.A.G. . . . A.C.”
It’s so good to know I have friends who care for me. Mara and Alice probably won’t get married, either – at least for a while – since we all want to make our way in the world first.
I even got a very unexpected birthday greeting, a postcard from Italy, from Susan. How very thoughtful of her that was.
Also, I received a “nice” rejection note from Doug Haining of Salt Lick Press. He writes, “You’ve got something going here . . . but unfortunately we’re too busy with publishing books” to help me out with publication in his semi-defunct magazine.
The rest of the mail included my paycheck from LIU and a notice from the treasurer at Brooklyn College, stating that I must pay this term’s tuition by June 10; I’ll have Dad take care of it.
Mayor Beame’s “crisis” budget will mean thousands of city layoffs and cuts in service, and a lot of human misery – all for the sake of a balanced budget.
11 PM. Josh called an hour ago. His sister died in Sacramento on Monday night. Josh had flown out there, and he said, “The way she looked and the way she was suffering, I was almost glad. Almost.”
The funeral was three days late and they’re sitting shiva at his parents’ house. Josh said the whole thing was a nightmare.
I didn’t know what to say and told him so, and he said, “There’s nothing to say.” Josh wanted to talk about other things, so I tried to entertain him with gossip. I told him about going to the movies with Mara, and on cue, Josh said, “Did you fuck her?” and I, going into my act, pretended to be shocked.
Josh said his apartment will soon be virtually empty. Robbie will be leaving for graduate school in Ann Arbor in August, and now Mario is splitting for California. Apparently Josh is planning to go ahead with his trip.
I think I’m going to have nightmares tonight. I’m very upset about Josh’s sister.