Tuesday, October 21, 1975
10 PM. Ultimately everything in my life turns to comedy, which is probably all for the best. I’ve just come from meeting Vince; we met halfway between my house and Ridgewood, where he lives, at the Galaxy diner on Linden Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York.
To my surprise, Vince had called this afternoon while I was marking papers; he had taken a day off from work, and we chatted for a while and arranged to meet this evening.
All along, I’d been visualizing a slim, good-looking cute guy, and when I got my first look at Vince, he was none of those things. I don’t know what the opposite of sexy is, but that’s how I could describe him: it turns out he’s shorter than me, so skinny as to be chicken-chested, and rather goofy-looking.
I know I shouldn’t be so concerned with appearances; Vince is a very nice if somewhat uninteresting guy. But after all, the point for me is to explore a homosexual relationship with a guy I’m attracted to, and I wouldn’t dream of touching Vince. Christ, compared to him, I’m Robert Redford!
If he were a girl, it might be different, but even then, I’d have to like her a lot as a person to go out with a girl I wasn’t attracted to. And Vince doesn’t appear to be especially interesting: he’s like a perfect schlemiel, using phrases like “ticked off,” putting what he called “catsup” on his hamburger with a knife, and wearing zippered shirts that went out of style years ago.
He is only crazy for music, has never been to college, doesn’t read; we have nothing in common. I guess now I finally understand how Rachel felt last spring when she finally met little old me instead of Prince Charming.
Going to meet Vince, I was a little nervous about his getting interested in me and maybe trying something – that’s why I suggested the diner – but he’s such a harmless soul. I sort of envisioned someone dark and handsome and wiry, and part of me was excited by that.
But I don’t need to have another Gary-type friend (come to think of it, Gary is probably better-looking than Vince). So I think my first meeting with Vince will be my last. I never figured on bisexuality being boring. The joke’s on me, as usual, but I’m trying to take it with philosophical good humor.
Maybe this will teach me something – for one thing, not to answer personals ads.
Last evening when I met Marie at the college, I first signed some Graduate English Students Association payment orders reimbursing her and Donny for the work they did on the literary magazine, Junction. Marie’s annoyed that I left her alone to fight with Donny all these months, but the first issue should be out soon.
Marie and I also made up a budget for the Association for this term, and we’ve decided to store the books that GESA owns in a cabinet in the Graduate Students Organization office. (The GSO president, Beryl, who beat Marie in the election, was there.)
This morning at LIU, I again lectured on mechanics: capitalization, commas and semicolons; then, in the second hour, I met individually with the students to go over their papers. Now that they’re handing things in, I find that they’re not at all dumb.
A few of them – Jane Kimble, a spunky black girl; Daisy Soto, a cute Puerto Rican girl; and Raymond Cato, an older black man – are all fairly intelligent writers.
I do have some problem students, and I noticed today that otherwise good students like Jean Toussaint and Guilaine Richard have trouble with double negatives. They write, “Nor have I not done this, or have I not done that,” for example – probably because they’re Haitian, and in French, double negatives are the rule.
I feel I’m becoming much more attuned to the class (although I still get very hostile vibrations from Willie Rodriguez), and I no longer feel very nervous beforehand.
I got a letter from Alexander’s today; I couldn’t imagine what it was until I opened it and discovered that Anna had used me as a reference. Needless to say, I was very flattered and sent out a glowing recommendation.
At lunch today, Gisele was trying to convince me and Mom to accept Jesus as our savior because, Gisele said, she doesn’t want to see us go to Hell.
Wednesday, October 22, 1975
4 PM on a deliciously summery day. It doesn’t feel like October at all, and if I didn’t see the salmon and russet trees in Prospect Park, I’d think this was the first hint of summer rather than its last breath. I wish I had more time to enjoy this weather, but it’s very good to be active, too.
I went downtown to the Fiction Collective office today, and while walking on Fulton Street, I passed the store that used to be the Slack Bar. I remembered how I worked there when I was 14 and 15, and how, in college, I’d go by the store after coming from a therapy session with Dr. Wouk and I’d always see Grandpa Herb, either altering pants on the sewing machine or chatting with the black customers who all called him “Pop.”
My mind wandered to that warm day this January when I was working as a messenger for the Voice; that day I felt so exhilarated, watching people in Rockefeller Center and sitting in the coolness of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Or that day I went out to Hempstead Lake Park and felt so damned good, or last fall at Ransom Beach. Or when I was a senior in college and Josh and I would take little trips on Fridays after Prof. Roberts’ Dostoevsky class.
So much in my life has been genuinely beautiful.
For some reason, I’m thinking now of a day in March of 1966 when I played hooky from tenth grade at Franklin School. I was at Kings Highway, buying a comic book, when I heard the first exhibition baseball game of the season on the candy store’s radio.
Which reminds me: last night’s World Series game between the Reds and the Red Sox was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. It had me on the edge of my seat, which is pretty amazing for someone like me who doesn’t really care much about either the Boston or Cincinnati teams.
Anyway, I really have very few complaints about life; it’s been good to me.
Josh is probably pissed at me after what I said about his story yesterday in the workshop, but after all these months, I finally had to tell the truth.
His latest story was more of the same stupid melodrama about characters who are assholes. Josh said that in all of his stories, he’s trying to prove that no matter what anybody does, they end up as losers.
I didn’t say it, but Josh’s refusal to even ingest any of our criticism is a way of proving his thesis; he has yet to write a really successful story. I wouldn’t object to Josh’s pessimism (although I disagree with it) if he wrote about characters who he didn’t obviously feel so superior to.
I think it’s fear, fear of opening up, that makes Josh take the easy way out. But I can’t tell him anything like that, so our friendship has deteriorated into an acquaintanceship.
Today I got a rejection from a little magazine, but now that I’m working for the Fiction Collective and am on the other side, so to speak, I feel even less offended than I used to.
At the office, I sent back one novel manuscript and told a querying author to forget about submitting his book to us. Peggy, who is very helpful as well as very nice, had copies made of the rejection form letter I wrote; I’m to sign them with my title of “Manuscript Assistant to the Coordinator.”
Today I sent out manuscripts to be read by Fiction Collective author/members Ron Sukenick, Mimi Albert and Seymour Simckes. It’s good experience for me, being in the Schermerhorn Street office and seeing how something like the Collective actually works.
On the way there, I met Mason at the escalator of the Lawrence Street station as we were both coming out of an RR train. Mason was going to the Gilbert School, where he was teaching two English classes – tenth- and eleventh-graders – this afternoon; they call him up every once in a while to substitute.
Mason’s still living with Libby’s family in Park Slope although he told me that he doesn’t want to impose on them for much longer.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve called Ronna. Last night I dreamed of seeing her and Henry together, and in the dream I felt very jealous.
Last evening I spoke to Gary, who saw this new girl, Betty, on Friday night, Saturday night and all day Sunday. It sounds like he’s heading into one of those tight-knit relationships, although I have to admit that Betty does sound somewhat better – more honest and menschy – than Kay was.
By the new year, no doubt, Gary will buy Betty a locket and be considering marriage.
Saturday, October 25, 1975
3 PM. It’s the weekend, so as usual the clouds and rain and humidity have descended on the city. I feel totally disgusted with myself this afternoon; I’m annoyed because I’m bored and lonely, and that’s an indication I’m a messed-up person.
I believe, stoically or whatever, that it’s a person’s own responsibility to keep himself free of boredom and loneliness. So, conveniently, my philosophy allows me to feel guilty on top of everything else.
I feel ashamed of feeling lonely and bored; it’s as if, at this point in my life, I shouldn’t feel those things. After all, I’m teaching, writing, going to school. Yet we know that “shoulds” and “oughts” are dangerous creatures.
See, it’s very hard for me not to take responsibility for my own loneliness. Ironically, it’s reading Gestalt and humanistic psychology books, as well as my own therapy, which has taken me to the conclusion that if I’m lonely, it’s my own doing.
Oh, shit – am I making any sense? Let me forget about therapy and Stoicism for a while and do a little self-pitying and kvetching, huh? Promise you won’t tell anyone that Richie Grayson is a closet kvetch?
Oh, I feel so miserable. (I can’t even do this right anymore! Being out of practice just makes me feel foolish when I write things like that.)
For the last several days, I’ve been having a pain in my chest, and I think it’s self-induced. I’ve been working out with the Bullworker an awful lot, up to two hours a day, when all you’re really supposed to do is ten minutes or so.
And I remember reading that too much isometric exercise can damage your heart. What’s the good of having big muscles if you get a heart attack when you’re 30? Why am I so goddamn compulsive about everything?
The pat answer would be, “I got being compulsive from my mother,” but that’s only partially true. Look at these diary pages, for Christ’s sake! Neatly written pages in tiny handwriting, never a day missed in – what – over six years?
Maybe I should abandon this journal, but the thought terrifies me. I dream of blank diary pages and feel pure terror; it’s as though my very life were dependent upon grinding out these pages, whether I want to or not, and I don’t know whether that’s a good sign or a bad one.
Last night I wrote a four page “story” called “Glen Cove By-Pass,” which is really a prose-poem dramatic monologue by that pregnant widow I imagined yesterday. I just don’t have the patience anymore to create a realistic character and situation out of descriptions, dialogue and nuance.
As I finished the last paragraph, I got a call from Ronna. I suppose I was as surprised to hear from her as she was to learn that I had called the night before, while she was out with a date at the Joffrey Ballet.
She said she never expected to hear from me again, and that she’s been very angry with me for “telling [her] to get lost” when we last saw each other. Of course, she’s twisting things around again.
She’s still taking temporary jobs every week, she dreamed the other night of having Henry’s baby, she’s seeing other people besides Henry, and she hasn’t yet heard from any of the graduate schools she applied to.
Ronna didn’t sound particularly happy and said that she feels as though she’s in limbo and that it’s hard to get to know new people – something I can really sympathize with.
She mentioned that Sounder was on TV last night and how we cried when we saw it, and she talked about how she was looking for someone to go to the movies or a play with today or tonight.
It didn’t occur to me until after we hung up that Ronna might have been hinting that she wanted me to see her. Damn Ronna and how much she can still drive me crazy after all this time!
Tuesday, October 28, 1975
It’s a lovely afternoon. This has been one of the mildest autumns I can remember; it seems like early September rather than late November.
I’ve just come from Kings Plaza, where I splurged a big $1.80 on lunch at Bun ‘n’ Burger – it had been a long time – and afterwards I bought Gary a birthday card.
At the mall, I ran into Ronna’s cousin Betty, who said she’ll be graduating South Shore this year and then going on to college, probably Brooklyn. We’re all getting older. I just realized that Gary will be 25, and that means that in June, I’ll be 25, too!
It’s unbelievable that I’ll have lived a quarter-century and that I’ll no longer be in my early twenties. I’ll be old enough to be a congressman: very weird.
Sometimes I’ll catch myself thinking about someone or something from the past – say, Shelli, or Mark Savage when he was teaching me about journalism for the special Ol’ Spigot newsletters we were doing during the Kent State strike – and then suddenly it will hit me that it was over four years ago.
I finally heard from Avis, who apologized for not writing sooner. Since they got back to Bremen three weeks ago, she’s been very busy. Her money troubles led her to take a job waiting tables in a nearby café a few times a week. She says it’s shit work, but it’s a student-oriented café, so she can wear jeans.
Avis says she will be coming home in about a month. Originally she had planned on a two- or three-week visit, but unfortunately (for her) she’ll have to stay longer in order to work so she can afford to fly back to Germany.
She’s upset that Helmut cannot come here with her: “We are still madly in love and practically married, though not (and never) legally . . . I shall be almost half-dead when I’m away from him, so perhaps you won’t see the real Avis until Helmut is with her . . . I am happy, happy, happy. Life isn’t such a big problem for me anymore.”
And I am happy, happy, happy for Avis, who finally found what she was searching for all those years in college. Despite the poverty and the loneliness of being in strange country, Avis is making it. It will be so good to see her.
Last night I went to the college and found Marie and Donny in the GSO office, doing paste-ups for Junction. It was tedious work. Marie had wanted to use Eddie Stein in Williamsburg and his hot type, but Donny vetoed that, so they ended up with cold type – where the mistakes, if not spotted, are almost impossible to correct. And I found such an error, the word “noone’s” (no one’s) in Marie’s story.
I made out payment orders covering the supplies and the first half of the printer’s bill, and then drove Marie home. She said the agency where she works – it’s a juvenile delinquent social welfare thing – is probably going to be axed in Beame’s next cutbacks, so in the meantime nobody in her office is doing any work.
This morning I drove Petey, Jonny’s friend who lives across the street, to Brooklyn Tech, and it was pleasant to have even a kid’s company for the tedious, traffic-snarled drive up Flatbush Avenue.
In class today I went over the major steps of a paragraph (basically organization) and reviewed the different sentence types (simple, compound, complex).
It’s boring, and I know it, but I’ve got to teach it and I try to be as interesting as I can. If I succeed, fine; if not, I do my best. But I find that the anxiety is lessening and the “ham” in me is taking over, as I enjoy having a captive audience.
I don’t mind the stimulation of Willie Rodriguez’s verbal sparring, which is designed to make me look foolish; it’s a challenge to be up in front of the class and deal with him the way a good comedian deals with hecklers.
Billy Masters, the kid in a wheelchair, has a very good imagination, and some of my students – Daisy Soto, Jane Kimble, Robert Lynch – are not dumb at all.
Arnold Batta, however, doesn’t believe he needs tutoring and considers class a waste of time; he Wants to Write, but he doesn’t know the essentials of grammar or punctuation.
Still, teaching remedial writing is an interesting experience.
Thursday, October 30, 1975
9 PM. It’s been a good day.
Dad just came in, to show me the responses he got to his ad, which has been running in the Times Business Opportunities section. He advertised for a partner, with working capital, for a men’s wear firm that’s been established fifty years and whose partner is retiring.
He got about six or seven letters, all from Jewish men in the metropolitan area; most were very brief, and I think he’ll contact only two or three of these men.
I wonder just what the economic situation is going to be; yesterday, the day of Ford’s speech, was the anniversary of the ’29 stock market crash. No one knows what the effects of default will be. Today’s Daily News headline was a classic: FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.
Yesterday it hit 78° and I went out in a short-sleeved shirt over to visit Gary, who said he’s been having a lot of hassles with his father, who’s been “on the rampage” lately. When Gary’s father came in, he was friendly to me but didn’t say a word to Gary.
Gary’s really getting tight with Prof. Davidson at Columbia, and I have no doubt Gary will be a success in the academic world: it’s gratifying for me as a friend, and also because I’m making the same toeholds as Gary.
As I was leaving, Gary was going to work for the butcher and then spend the evening at Betty’s in Flushing. Betty really sounds like a good person; she works at Queens College, paints, and tells dirty jokes. She sent Gary a friendship card and is painting his portrait for his birthday.
I’m envious, but not envious enough of them to the point where I’m not happy for Gary. Hey, I like me because I actually feel that way! It’s nice seeing that you’re actually a person every once in a while.
Last evening’s History of the English Language course was pleasant, and I enjoyed myself as I always do in Murphy’s class. On the way home, I had a nice talk with Glen, who said he feels school isn’t important and wants to get involved in fighting hunger and fascism.
That made me realize how conservative I’ve become over the years. In my early college days, I was ready to battle for any cause except myself. Now I’ve become selfish, and happier; I couldn’t change the world, but I did change me.
This morning was a stark contrast to yesterday: clouds and a 40° chill. I ran into Dr. Farber in the elevator again, just as I dreamed I had last night.
At 9 AM, I was in front of my classroom at my desk – and not one student was there. By 9:15 AM, there were three students, and eventually most everyone showed up. I guess they all felt the way I did this morning: they looked outside and wanted to just stay in bed all day, and then thought the better of it.
Teaching a lesson on verbs, I was in pretty good form; I’m completely at ease in front of my class now. I really do like them, and it surprises me. I’m sure that they can tell I’m smart: I’ve always got a wide range of facts and ideas I can produce at a moment’s notice. But I don’t show off.
Billy Masters, the white kid in the wheelchair, told me that yesterday he drove to his father’s house in Pennsylvania, where it was snowing. Tuesday is Election Day, so LIU will be closed, and thus I won’t meet with my class until a week from today.
Back home, I did my exercises, ate lunch, read, watched soap operas and picked up Marc, who finishes school at TCI next month.
In the Fiction Workshop, we went over two stories by Denis which were absolutely awful: obscure, wordy and completely confusing. Surprisingly, Baumbach liked one of the stories, but he’s always a sucker for the surrealistic.
Sharon, Simon and I detested them and said so, and when the four of us went to the Pub after class, Denis was a little pissed at us. But it turned out to be the nicest dinner we’ve had lately: all the vibrations were right, and we were getting along so well, talking about writing and theater and astrology.
Afterwards, I drove Simon to his shrink and took Sharon home; on the way, we had an absolutely marvelous conversation about soap operas and their narratives.