Thursday, October 2, 1975
2 PM. In an hour, I have to meet Baumbach; right now I’ve been resting in bed, trying to make up for lack of sleep. It looks as if Monday and Wednesday nights will be poor sleep nights. I get home from Brooklyn College so late and have to leave for LIU so early in the morning.
It’s a very uneven schedule: yesterday at noon I had just gotten up and was having breakfast, while today at noon I was ready for lunch, with a day’s teaching behind me.
Last evening I went over to Alice’s to feed Kat, who must be so lonely with no one there; she kept rubbing herself against me, and she cried when I left. I felt bad about that.
Allan called to tell me that he had spotted Skip over the weekend and Leon last night. On Saturday night, Allan was on the corner of Christopher and West Streets in the Village, a well-known cruising place, when he saw Skip sitting in a doorway with someone.
Skip ignored Allan, pretending not to know him. “He really looked out of it,” Allan said.
And on Tuesday night, Allan was at a bar, sitting at a table with a group of friends, when he noticed Leon, drink in hand, at the bar, Leon, too, ignored him. He was alone, and when Allan looked over, a few minutes later, Leon was gone.
I’m fairly curious as to what Leon and Skip are doing in town. Are they here separately or together? Is either of them here for good, or are they just visiting? Anyway, Allan said he knew that I “would appreciate the gossip,” and he was right.
Last night in Murphy’s class, we discussed Old English, and it was fairly interesting. I drove Glen home again, and after seeing him several times lately, I don’t know what to make of him.
He always sits in the back of the class and leaves the room once in the middle of the period. Maybe I’m just projecting from my own past experience, but I have the feeling Glen experiences anxiety attacks.
In the car, he was talking, almost irrationally, about there being a revolution in this country in ten years, and how he’d like to be here for it, but feels the need to be “rootless” and out of the country.
He made it quite clear that he didn’t give a fuck about his M.A. program and that he’d rather be somewhere else. (Yet I thought of his coming back from UCLA right away – not that I mentioned it to him, of course.)
In a way, Glen talks the way Jerry used to talk five years ago; he seems like a very disturbed boy. Of course, I, on the other hand, am a completely integrated personality. Like fun. . .
I’ve decided to answer one of those ads in the Aquarian, from a guy who lives in Montclair, New Jersey. He described himself as gay, 5’7”, 140 pounds, blue eyes, medium length brown hair, cute and straight-looking; he’s 22 and goes to college.
What made me respond to him was that he said he had a “fairly good build” rather than getting very explicit – God knows why anyone would care what size a person’s penis is – and wrote, “My straight friends are great but not enough.”
So I’ll send him a short letter and maybe a couple of autobiographical stories, I think. If he likes the way I sound (in fiction as well as in my self-description), he’ll write back. If not, not.
I do not ever want to get involved in the gay scene, though: the bars, the baths and cruising all turn me off. I’m not even sure I want to have sex with a guy, but I should try it once and for all and find out. I feel I still need a woman, too, though.
This morning my class went well although there were a lot of absences and latecomers. I went over topic sentences today, and I’m definitely loosening up and enjoying myself.
In a sense, it’s like being on stage, and I’ve always been a ham. My students are, for the most part, fairly unresponsive, and I can tell that I’m boring them at times, but occasionally I do make contact, and that’s great.
Early in the morning in the Humanities Division, all the secretaries and teachers gather for coffee. There’s another young guy, a part-time teacher like me, who’s very effeminate and campy, whom I think an idiot.
I finally asked Margaret to call me Richard rather than “Mr. Grayson,” telling her that I felt uncomfortable otherwise.
Saturday, October 4, 1975
It’s been a beautiful Indian summer day. The sky has been clear and very blue, and it looks free of pollution. Yesterday, driving over the Verrazano Bridge, everything looked so clear and crisp.
I mailed that response to the ad in the Aquarian from that guy in New Jersey, and I also mailed out a letter to a woman who put a personal ad in the New York Review of Books, a “wifty mother of one” who wanted a guy in New York City who could “tolerate home-baked poetry, blue jeans, the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] and most of all, little boring stories about librarians.” She asked for a man over 28, but I wrote her anyway; I’ve never had the slightest experience with an older woman and I’d like to try it.
Last night I dreamed that Vito wanted me to meet his new lover, Mr. Yes. I think the dream and my answering these ads mean that I’m ready to open up my narrow world again.
Finally I’ve had to give up any notion of getting back with Ronna, and facing that has made me realize that I do not want to spend the rest of my life masturbating.
A good therapist, like Mrs. Ehrlich, would say that I didn’t have to give up the dream of returning to Ronna; in a very real sense, I made the decision to give that up for good. I did, after all, upon finding that she was seeing Henry, decide not to press any further. Another person might have proceeded anyway.
It’s not that I’m a particularly moral or unselfish person. I am not asexual, and I have a definite hunger for love and for sex, with females and with males. It’s a year since I stopped seeing Ronna, and the period of mourning must end.
It’s curious, however, how that period of mourning worked out for me in the past. Almost exactly a year after my breakup with Shelli, I was ready to fall in love with Ronna. It almost makes me think it’s not the person herself but the time factor, the readiness, that’s involved in falling in love.
This morning I went over to see Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel; they’ve got their plane tickets for their trip to Florida on December 4, and I sense that already they’re nervous about their first plane trip. I stayed and chatted with them for an hour, and then left soon after Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris arrived.
I walked over to Grandpa Nat’s but found no one home; they might have gone over to Sydelle’s, as Monty is home from the hospital now.
This afternoon I went to Gary’s to see his new nephew and godson Richard. The baby, a month old, was asleep in a portable crib in Gary’s room and looked as cute as a bug in a rug; those tiny features – the ears, the fingernails – are so adorable. Of course, Gary’s sister and brother-in-law are still excited, and Gary’s parents are already doting grandparents.
Last evening Gary finally broke up with Kay. Just before they were going out, he called me, as he was very nervous about it. But once he got up the nerve and began to tell her what he had to, it went all right.
Kay did not cry, and I suspect she might have even felt a little relieved. He said he got a lot of things off his chest, honestly but not cruelly, and they agreed to part as friends, or at least not as mortal enemies.
Gary asked for the locket back, and she said she’d like to keep it for sentimental reasons, as a reminder of what they once shared, but she agreed to think about giving it back.
I left Gary’s apartment at 5 PM so he could get to Telepathy, where Joe is squeezing Gary in as his last appointment before his vacation in Wyoming, and then go out on his first post-Kay blind date tonight.
Jonny and I went over to Alice’s to feed the cat; I think Alice will be back either tomorrow or Monday. The poor cat is so lonely, Jonny and I had to outwit her in order to leave; otherwise, she would have gotten out of the house with us. Soon Kat won’t have to be lonely anymore, and maybe the same thing will hold true for me.
Reading Herb Leibowitz’s review of three studies of William Carlos Williams in tomorrow’s Times Book Review, among other things, has made me wonder: Is there anything left to do in writing? Today, it seems, that everybody is a poet or a novelist or a filmmaker, and I’d better realize now that I’d be damned lucky to reach the stature of a Jonathan Baumbach.
But I had wanted so much more than that. What a foolish person I am. Is there anything I can write or say that a dozen people haven’t already said in a better way? I suppose that in one way I could look at Time as my friend; after all, American novelists are still young at 40 and not “mature talents” until 60.
But I can’t see me at 40; it’s simply inconceivable. At 60, yes, and older: I can see myself in my declining years.
What it all boils down to is my terrible, ancient fear of an independent life, of adulthood, of menschdom. I lie about my age even now: I routinely tell people I’m 21 or 22. And I’m beginning to feel old.
I have this terrible, awful feeling that life will go on, day by day, and tomorrow, or the day after that, I’ll awake and find myself an old man. Confronting that, all my other problems seem like tiny specks.
Wednesday, October 8, 1975
9 PM. What am I doing home when I should be in class, being bored by Prof. Murphy? I decided to take a night off in hopes of catching up on some sleep and in celebration of selling a short story.
When the mail came this morning, I first noticed an envelope in my own handwriting, meaning a rejection, this one from Confrontation, the LIU literary magazine.
But then I saw an envelope from a David Lenson in Sunderland, Massachusetts. I opened it quickly, scanning the first line – “I’m glad to say that Robert Steiner, fiction editor, and I are accepting ‘Summoning Alice Keppel’. . .” – noticed a check for $20, and screamed, “Mom!”
I was so nervous and shaky that the first time I heard the whole letter was when Mom read it to Dad over the phone. The magazine is Panache, and I think it has a fairly good reputation; it’s out of Princeton, and they list fairly well-published writers as among their contributors, including Raymond Federman of the Fiction Collective.
They have a circulation of 1,000 and they use a reversion copyright, meaning that after they publish the story, I’ll be free to reprint it in a collection. David Lenson wrote that the issue, a double issue of prose and poetry, will be out before spring, and thus the fiction editor will probably get in touch with me soon with some questions and suggestions.
But the last paragraph of the story was worth more to me than gold, and I reprint it here in full: “I should say that the competition lately has been incredibly tough, and that in fact the issue was considered closed before your piece came to my attention. But of all the thousands of pages we’ve seen in the last five months, these stand out as the most unified and imaginative, and we’re very pleased to print them.”
That kind of heady praise is too much for me to comprehend. I went to the college and ran into Josh, showing him the letter; he said, “You’re really going places.” Then I went into the MFA office to show it to Peter Spielberg; I knew he would be in today, and as I wrote the piece for his class and he encouraged me with it, I thought he would be pleased – and he was.
Later in the afternoon, I drove out to Rockaway (hang the new $1 toll!) and walked along the beach. It was so beautiful out today, and the air smelled so sweet; I’d forgotten how much I missed the ocean.
I went to see Grandpa Herb, and when I showed him the acceptance letter and check, he was as proud as a peacock, as usual. When Grandma Ethel came in, she was happy for me, too.
When I went over to see Grandma Sylvia, she said she thought it was great, and then the two of us laughed hysterically when she related the story of an obscene phone call she got this morning that she first assumed was from Aunt Sydelle.
The caller said “Ma?” in a very hoarse voice.
Grandma Sylvia got all excited and said, “Sydelle, what happened to your voice?”
“Oh, I got this terrible case of laryngitis overnight.”
“Monty went out shopping.”
“Sydelle,” Grandma Sylvia implored, “please, why don’t you see a doctor?”
And the hoarse voice said no, that she’d been helped by a massage from a woman down the block and then proceeded to go into very explicit sexual details.
Grandma Sylvia became frantic, fearing for Aunt Sydelle’s sanity until finally she realized it was a prank call and hung up. Still, she called Sydelle just to make sure.
(It’s a very funny story; I must put it in fiction when I get a chance.)
When I got back to Brooklyn, I called Gary, who seemed pleased for me, and likewise, I was happy for him when he told me that tomorrow he had a meeting with David Prowitt, the public TV producer and host, to talk about doing research from his Mental Health Helpline series last spring.
I’d been feeling so discouraged lately, but now I just feel so damned good, as though my confidence about what I’m doing with my writing has been confirmed.
Actually, I’ve been very happy since yesterday afternoon, when I was at Brooklyn College with Simon and went over to speak with Stacy when I spotted her and asked her what she’s been doing lately. (If I hadn’t, she would have ignored me.)
Stacy was walking with her arm around her lover, Robin, a small, friendly girl. I don’t know if they wanted to see any reaction on my part, but I just smiled widely, and inside, I felt like congratulating them on their courage.
I met Morty and we had a great old time, as we always do together. He said he’s been so horny lately that the other day he and Hope were coming home from the camera store on the train and he wanted to punch her because her shirt was unbuttoned and her breast was driving him crazy.
Morty mentioned that he, too, once considered having an affair with Stacy. Is there any guy I know except maybe Vito who hasn’t? Anyway, I enjoyed being with Morty, whom I think is one of the greatest people around.
Thursday, October 9, 1975
3 PM on a grey, rainy afternoon. Despite a sinus headache, I feel very cozy at the moment. I’m wearing freshly-washed jeans – they’re still warm – and that’s always nice.
Today I went down to about 143 pounds, so I’ve managed to lose most, if not all, of the fat I put on this summer. My body’s in pretty good shape, and I feel relieved.
I’ve been reading William Carlos Williams. And the warm glow from yesterday’s acceptance notice has not completely worn off. I haven’t been doing much writing lately, but in a way, I am writing – or at least preparing to. For just living and experiencing and noticing will pay off in the end, in my fiction.
My story in New Writers was a first step, but Panache is a real literary magazine, not a publication for students, so this time I was competing against professionals. That they actually reopened the issue for me: that’s what’s hardest for me to believe.
I debated for a long time whether to call Ronna and tell her the good news; I knew, on the one hand, that she understands what this means to me – but on the other hand, she might take it the wrong way, as if I were saying, “Ha ha! Look how well I’m doing without you!”
But finally I did call her, after she’d just come back from a theater lecture at the New School. Ronna said she was a bit angry with me about that Sunday, but we had a very pleasant chat. She’s still taking temporary jobs and is otherwise fine.
And she was happy for me; she said, “I can’t wait to tell everybody!” I think if Ronna and I confine our relationship to occasional chatty phone calls, we can maintain some kind of friendship.
Last evening Anna called; she had remembered my telling her Marc was in TV repair work and her set had broken down. In her dizzy way, Anna wanted to know if Marc could tell her to fix the set or whether she should throw it out. Marc told her he couldn’t come all the way up to Manhattan to fix it and that she should call a neighborhood repairman.
After getting a good night’s sleep, I felt a lot more coherent than usual going to LIU today. The morning ritual around the coffeepot and Margaret’s desk is quite pleasant.
Prof. Silveira had left a department-wide proficiency exam in my mailbox, so I skipped the lesson I had planned for today and gave the class the test; later, I went over the exam with them.
I have a fairly good rapport with my class and I’m glad to see that everybody’s loosening up a little and getting friendly with each other. We have some fun while we do grammar; I don’t try to put myself above and apart from the students.
There was much laughter today as I tried to go over the old lie-lay/lay-laid syndrome; Willie Rodriguez, who fancies himself a stud, started making wisecracks which even I thought were pretty funny.
I got a new student today, a blond boy in a wheelchair, William Masterson. Already I have to take special care of Guadalupe Camero, who’s blind, and Sylvester Shaw, who’s a quadriplegic. I’m learning a lot from my students: from the Haitians, the older black women, the Jamaicans.
Now I have a few days at leisure, at least after Baumbach’s class this afternoon.