A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1976

early feb 76

Tuesday, February 3, 1976

It’s great to be back in school again. If I could, I’d spend my whole life as a college student. To be with people, to be out in the world after nearly a month’s respite – I feel like a new person.

The snow and ice melted slightly today; driving was a bit less hazardous, and so I could take my car to school. As I sloshed onto the campus, I felt at home, and when, almost immediately, I saw a friendly face, I really felt at home.

Fred told me he was happy to be back at Brooklyn after a rather unhappy term at Queens College. “This place isn’t heaven,” Fred said, “but it’s not bad.” Them’s my sentiments exactly.

Fred still has his things in that Queens apartment, but he’s renting a place Glenwood Road houseon Glenwood Road starting next month, and until then, he’s staying with a friend.

Last night Fred spoke to Mason and said that Mason has a job at a Wall Street law firm’s law library.

“Oh, really?” I said. “I had a similar job.”

It turns out that Mason is working at Sullivan and Cromwell. He has the same job I had! That’s really an amazing coincidence, though of course, Mason did get the job at the Brooklyn College Placement Office, as I had.

Fred had to buy some textbooks and then go to work at the American Youth Hostel store. After I said goodbye to him, I went to the new MFA office in Boylan to talk with Baumbach. Jill Hoffman and Ray Toepfer were in the office, too.

As I sat down, Jon said jokingly, “I bet you’ve sold eleven stories since I last saw you.”

“No,” I said. “Only one.” I did tell him about finishing my novel, and he agreed to read it. I know it’s probably not publishable, but of course I can daydream about seeing the book as a book.

Jonathan-Baumbach-What-Comes-Next-1stI’m almost scared to let Baumbach read it because it’s mine now and I don’t want to give it up to someone who can’t understand what it’s all about.

I told Jon that I’ve been at loose ends concerning my future. He suggested that I at least try to get some letters and curriculum vitae in the mail to English Departments. Baumbach said that if the Fiction Collective got a new government or foundation grant, they might be able to hire me as a part-time worker. “But I don’t want you to count on it,” he said.

He wants me to go to Braziller at my convenience and weed out some of thebraziller logo awful manuscripts in the First Novel Contest. As I was leaving the office, Hannah from Jon’s undergraduate course was coming in; I really like her a lot.

In the hall, I ran into Donny, who said he hasn’t called me about a Junction meeting because Marie has been seriously ill. She had a very bad case of the flu, ran 105° fever, and had to be put into an ice-bed in the hospital.

How awful. Donny himself had a slight case of pneumonia, he said, as we went down to the cafeteria with Michael Malinowitz, also in the poetry MFA program. After Donny left, Michael and I had tea and talked about the program.

ashbery vermont notebookMichael said John Ashbery is a much better teacher than Jill Hoffman. Most of the people in the Poetry Workshop are married and work full-time, and sometimes only two people show up to class.

For some reasons, girls were smiling at me all day; I must have looked good. Or maybe it was my imagination.

It was good to see the familiar faces in our class. Simon didn’t show up, for some reason, but everyone else was there. I forgot how much I missed good old Todd and Sharon and Anna and Denis. All of the students are taking the 19th Century Novel class except Josh, who’s in Modern Drama, and me with my Modern British Novel course.

bound thesesWe’re going to have to file for our comprehensives soon and have our thesis ready by May as well. Jon hopes to bring a new person from Gelber’s first-year class into ours.

We went over my “Scenes from a Mirage: Atlantic City, March 1972,” and I was surprised that the class and Jon generally liked it. After Jon left, we stayed on for half an hour, chatting away – all except Josh, who left immediately.

Thursday, February 5, 1976

snow canarsie8 PM. Snow is falling, and at least three inches are expected.

I’m feeling kind of crappy and just hope I’m not coming down with the flu. Everybody’s been getting it lately, and I’ve just got to take care of myself. I’ll load myself up with vitamin C; it would be a shame to get ill just a month after my last cold.

Last night Prof. Kaye was as boring as I expected, managing the difficult feat of turning Conrad’s Heart of Darkness into one big yawn. But I’ve been bored by experts – Heffernan and Fuchs, just to name two – and I’ll survive this lit class, too.

heart of darknessSome of my fellow MFA students are in the class: nobody from my group, but Harvey, Laurie and Gail from the first year Fiction Workshop and Jed Dash from Poetry. When I got home at 10 PM, I was tired and went straight to bed.

I got a letter from Mara, who’s very busy down in Maryland. She’s getting six credits for her job and is taking one other course, in Political Communication. Her car, a ’69 Dodge Dart, is okay except the speedometer is broken; the other day on the Beltway, it said she was going 80 mph and cars were passing her left and right.

dodge dart 1969Mara’s brother came down for the weekend and they went to a lot of museums. Ricky is getting better and Mara thinks he’s becoming “a real person.”

It was freezing when she and Bob were in Florida – freezing for Florida, that is.

She’s working on a TV commercial to advertise the Bureau’s open house and is producing radio features for the Department of Commerce. She is starting to panic about not having a thesis topic yet.

And: “I have found someone to have a mad, wild and passionate fling with. Unfortunately, he is my friend, so things remain status quo.” Mara says she’ll probably call me if she comes in for Washington’s Birthday weekend.

canarsie storesI met Stanley at school today, and we talked for an hour before I drove him back home to Canarsie. He looks much the same as ever, still carrying that same old green bookbag.

But Stanley confided he’s been doing something to change his status. No, he’s not graduating: he still has many Incompletes from two years ago. But he is in therapy – which is where he should have been a long time ago.

Stanley admits that for the last four years, he’s been on the verge of a nervous breakdown and has only been functioning marginally. After I told him about my own experiences, Stanley seemed to feel less hesitant about talking about his situation; he had been getting afraid to go places and such.

But he feels he’s making progress. He’s seeing a male Manhattan psychiatrist twice a week (which, at $40 a session, has caused some tensions at home). At their first session, when he told his shrink about his columbia spectator feb 5 1976film mania, the doctor asked, “Didn’t you used to write for the Columbia Spectator?”

That endeared the man to Stanley forever, and anyway, as Stanley says, “It gives me something to talk about.”

Stanley goes to all the new film screenings at the Catholic Board (formerly Catholic Crusade Against Moviesthe Legion of Decency), where the priests and nuns in the audience go wild with laughter whenever any movie makes fun of the Church or the Pope. He told me what coming films I could miss and which ones I should see.

Stanley said he will not go to Elspeth and Elihu’s party. “When I ran into Mike,” Stanley said, “he told me he wouldn’t go, either, not if it were the last party ever given in the world.”

I got rejections today from TriQuarterly (“Enjoyed your witticisms”), Chelsea and Oyez Review (“Submit again this summer”).

triquarterly_1976winAt my tutorial with Jon, he said that it’s impossible to be more prolific than I have been and not produce junk. He thinks I’ve “gone over the edge” and am a “real writer” now; perhaps I couldn’t change if I tried. We had a really good talk.

Josh was kind of annoyed with me for telling Jon about Josh selling his story, but Jon said that Josh’s face “lit up” when he congratulated him about it. I think Josh’s annoyance was kind of a called-for gesture, to show he’s still a cranky pessimist.

We didn’t have a story to do, so there was no Workshop. I had tea with Denis and Josh, who’s decided to buy a car, a Karmann Ghia convertible.

Sunday, February 8, 1976

1976 diary closeupIt’s 2 AM, the middle of a midwinter Saturday night/Sunday morning. Eight hours after my last diary entry, I’m feeling better. The situation is the same: my life is everything it was and everything it wasn’t eight hours ago.

But I suppose I have come to the conclusion, if only for the moment, that there are worse fates than being Richard Arnold Grayson, of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. in the year 1976.

Undoubtedly my life has been better and richer than that of 97% of the people who’ve inhabited this earth throughout history. I have my family, I have friends, I have my vocation and my art, and I have good health and a roof over my head and neat clothing and protection from the cold.

Grandpa Herb called last evening. He said he’s getting used to our “brisk” lies my father told meweather after Florida. When he heard that Avis and I were seeing the Jan Kadar film, Lies My Father Told Me, Grandpa Herb said he and Grandma Ethel enjoyed seeing it in Fort Lauderdale.

After hanging up, I realized that Grandpa Herb would be destroyed if he had to face the fact of my suicide, and suddenly I felt very selfish. I can’t kill myself: if I am, as I pretend to be, a considerate person, I could never hurt my family and friends that way. I don’t think I’m being egotistical; if I committed suicide, it would make a lot of people sad.

Look, Grayson, it’s never been and it’s never going to be the kind of world you wish it to be; our fate is to live in the time and place where we find ourselves and to go through life like a mensch, to live with dignity, to enjoy ourselves as much as we possibly can without deliberately trying to hurt others along the way.

two dollar bill 1976Avis and I spent a wonderful evening together, and broke as I am, I didn’t even mind the money I laid out for her; in fact, if I could do it every night until Avis leaves, I would. Avis is my friend, and she’ll be my friend even when she’s an ocean away.

These past three months our friendship has been renewed and strengthened, and we’ve never been closer. Oh, I’m going to miss her so much.

loew's georgetowneWe went to see the movie in Georgetown with a typical Saturday night crowd. In the lobby I ran into Cara, who said she’s been looking for a job since graduation last June and will probably go to grad school in September.

It’s not an easy road for the generation coming of age now, but someone’s got to tell our side of this, and maybe I can give it a good try. I am me, Richie Grayson, a very particular peculiar individual, but I am a part of my generation – and in America today, age is a more important difference than sex, race, class, religion or region.

In the theater, I saw Irv and Doris Cohen, and I went over to them, behaving somewhat less rudely than usual; they told me I looked thin and that my face had gotten thinner, too.

lies my father told me stillThe film was all right, a bit sentimental, a story of a young boy in Montreal and the grandfather, the zaydeh, he worships. (I’ve got to go see Grandpa Nat one day soon to patch things up with him. He’s an old man, and I can’t bear to be on bad terms with him. What if he catches the flu from Dad? Who would take care of him?)

I took Avis to Jahn’s because she wanted an ice cream soda before she leaves America; I myself settled for a fruit cup and tea.

1974 jahn'sWe talked for an hour, and I’ll never forget it – not that we said anything earth-shattering. But I’ll remember Avis’s long, thin face and the way she plays with her hair, and the movements of her arm and shoulders as she speaks.

I told her everything I’ve been feeling about Ronna. Avis said, “I just wish you could meet someone who wasn’t a cunt – but who has one.” She said Alan Karpoff is “a fucker,” but I told her she was angry at Alan because the old feelings haven’t completely died.

“Didn’t sleeping with Alan cross your mind when you saw him?” I pressed her, jokingly.

jahn's booth“Yes,” Avis said, “but it’s my last week here. And besides, it crossed my mind with you, too.”

I think I blushed. I looked down at my cup of tea, there was a silence, and then I pointed out that the pictures on the restaurant wall were all crooked.

I think she meant it, but in any case, I know I am loved. Which is all that matters now, at 2:37 AM.

Tuesday, February 10, 1976

birthday cake candles10 PM. We’ve just had a fine party for Jonny’s 15th birthday. We brought out an ice-cream cake and Jonny blew out the candles. Then we had a very long family chat which I think did everyone some good.

Lately Dad has been terribly depressed about his business. When I came home from the Fiction Collective today, he was sitting at the kitchen table talking to Mom, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel about it.

He just doesn’t know whether to stay in business or not; his customers’ stores are failing, and that’s eating away at his business. Anyhow, Dad says that apart from his business problems, his life is happy.

rolling paperWe talked openly about Marc’s dealing, and Dad even tried his first joint; of course he did not get off on it. Now I can hear the four of them, still downstairs, discussing Mom’s obsessive cleanliness.

I’m obsessive about writing, and Jonny about his weight-lifting, and I have to admit that it’s not an entirely destructive track.

Marc doesn’t know what he wants to do. Dad says he wants to make easy money, and I guess Marc does that by dealing. (Last weekend, for instance, he made $60 in one sale.)

1974 village voice buildingDad sort of complimented me by saying that I know how hard it is to make money, having taken shit jobs like those at Alexander’s and the Village Voice and the library. I really never knew that Dad appreciated that.

I now realize that my going to that discount store Star-Value City yesterday after seeing Grandpa Nat – I was so glad he bore me no hostility and even gave me a dollar (“for the bridge”) when I left – was a kind of rehearsal: I just wanted to build up my confidence, to demonstrate that I can get a job. Now it all makes sense.

star value city 2Mom is fairly helpful to Dad, but she’s very antagonistic to the idea of his going into business with Lennie. After all this time, and even after seeing how Lennie’s punked out on the flea market, Dad still may consider an offer from Lennie.

Marc said that Joey Fishman’s going to California at the end of the month and that he’s considering joining Joey. They’d travel to L.A. and start afresh there. It might be a good thing for both of them.

jhs 78Jonny is doing well in school now and is especially interested in his metalworking shop; his teacher thinks he has talent. And Jonny’s still a golf nut: Mom and Dad got him golf balls (at a dollar each!) for a birthday present.

Anyhow, it’s easy to understand why, at 25, I’m still living at home with my family. It’s really good to come home to your family every night; generally, we’ve fairly supportive of one another, although Marc feels that none of us talk up enough about what irks us. (Marc is probably the person who keeps things bottled up the most.)

golden gloves queensLast night, I wanted to unwind, so I drove out to a Catholic church auditorium in Woodside and watched some preliminary bouts of the Golden Gloves.

I’m becoming something of a boxing fan. I find it exciting (seeing shirtless guys with muscles is somewhat arousing), and it gets out my hostilities vicariously. A lot of times I feel like punching someone, though not anyone in particular.

I slept deliciously, with marvelous dreams, particularly one about me, Jill and Gary living in adjoining apartments by Columbia.

body politicToday I looked really good. On Sunday, Avis said I’ve been looking very well lately, and it’s true: my skin has cleared up, my body’s better, and I feel handsome more of the time.

Downtown at the Fiction Collective office, I cleared up my desk, sending out four or five manuscripts to the author/members to vote on. Peggy was happy because Russell Banks’ book won the $1,000 St. Lawrence Prize.

We got letters from Senators Javits and Buckley congratulating us on our NEA grant; the grant will allow us to put out eight books without having the authors subsidize them.

something you do in the darkI wrote a letter to Dan Curzon, who wants us to look at his novel manuscript on a homosexual theme. He’s the editor of Gay Literature, and in the letter I put in a plug for the story I sent him earlier. One hand washes the other in business, and in literature as well.

Then I came home to find Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, who came to give Jonny his usual $25 U.S. savings bond birthday present.

Wednesday, February 11, 1976

6 PM. I must be the luckiest bastard who ever lived. Last night as I lay awake, I thought: “Life is good.” But life is better than it has any right to be.

I was eatLIU blackbirds notebooking lunch downstairs when Mom told me there was a phone call for me from “some woman.”

It was Margaret, and she said, “Do you have a job?” and “Would you be available to teach an English 12 class the B hour, 9 to 10 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?”

“Yes,” I said, and she put on Dr. Martin Tucker, the new department chairman. I’ve never met him, but I know him as the editor of Confrontation; Jon speaks highly of him, and Peggy told me that he’s going to introduce three of our Fiction Collective authors at a reading at the donnell libraryDonnell Library next month. Also, I read where he’s co-editing a book with Rita Stein, my freshman English teacher at Brooklyn College.

Anyhow, Dr. Tucker got on the line and said that some professor’s English 12 class had gotten too large and unwieldy, and they were splitting it up into two sections.

He told me he had gotten excellent recommendations from Dr. Silveira and Dr. Farber, and he said that even though I hadn’t taught English 12, I’d probably find it more interesting than 10 or 11.

short story masterpiecesIn English 12, the students continue with the Harbrace Handbook (I still have my copy from last spring), but they use the text Short Story Masterpieces, a standard collection of works by all the big guns of literature. We can read and discuss the stories, using them as jumping-off points for compositions.

They’re to write five compositions, one of which is a research paper. The third text is How to Write a Research Paper. I told Dr. Tucker I would come in early on Friday to find out just what the other professor had gotten up to.

I hung up and all but leaped to the ceiling. I could not have planned things more perfectly! The hours are great: I’ll have to get up early three times a week, but the class is only an hour long and I’ll be through at 10 AM, free for the rest of the day.

harbrace college handbook 7On the days when I have my Fiction Workshop at BC, I can sleep late, and that’s especially good on Thursday, when I can be free of anxiety following my late literature class on Wednesday night.

This will give me the opportunity to have taught each of the English composition courses at LIU (10, 11, 12) by the end of this term; I’ll have a year and a half of teaching under my belt.

And now my money worries are solved, and I won’t have to think of becoming a stock boy at a discount store. I feel the world is a great window that’s suddenly opened wide before me.

phone dialingI called Dad at work and he was thrilled, and so were Mom and my grandparents.

When I was speaking to Dad, Joel got on the line and said he would make an appointment for me with the woman with whom he collaborated on his tarot book, who’s agreed to give me a few pointers on getting an agent and stuff like that. I don’t think it will do much good; literary fiction like the kind I write being generally unsalable, but it couldn’t hurt.

Tonight I have to go pick up Libby at the airport, and so I’m cutting Kaye’s class. Yesterday Avis called to say she couldn’t make it tonight: Ellen and university of iowaWade are leaving Friday for Iowa, where Wade has an interview with the head of the English Ph.D. program and they want to check things out, so tonight will be the last chance she had to see them before returning to Germany.

Avis reported that Helmut wrote with good news: Avis definitely has the job at the café, and the position with Berlitz is a very real possibility.

This afternoon I spoke to Vito, who sounded fine. He’s taking one audiology course at BC, he’s not working, and he’s seeing all the latest movies and shows with his friend Billy, having dropped out of his old crowd.

My old neuroses, acting up, tell me life is too good to be true. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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