Sunday, November 23, 1975
4 PM on a cold, blustery day. I feel so buoyant, so enthusiastic about life.
An hour ago, while eating lunch, I just happened to turn to the classified section of the Sunday Times, where I found this ad: “WRITERS for staff position with monthly magazine. Must have the ability to watch TV shows and transcribe into story-like summaries.”
I assumed that they were referring to soap operas and wanted someone to capsulize a month’s events on a particular show into a monthly narrative, so I wrote a very forceful and positive letter listing my strengths.
If that is indeed what they want, I feel confident about my ability to do a great job – for if there’s only two things I know in this world, it’s writing and soap operas.
In the letter, I stressed my publications, my teaching writing, and my academic background on the one hand, and the fact that I’m highly conversant with daytime serials on the other. To be paid to write and to watch soap operas: that’s much too good to be true.
But I don’t want to get carried away with this. There’s a chance they may not call me at all. Still, the whole idea of the serendipity of life comes back to me again, and that alone gives me a great lift. The good things in my life have always fallen into it by accident, and maybe this will, too – but if it doesn’t, something else will; I’m convinced of it.
Tomorrow will fall into place, I’m sure, so there’s no need for anxiety.
Last evening was indeed another Richie/Alice disaster, but we were so giddy that we ended up having a good time. At first we couldn’t find the place: I was driving around downtown Brooklyn and couldn’t figure out where the hell this Brooklyn War Memorial Recreation Center was.
After much searching, much laughing, and two phone calls, we finally found it. It was in the park by Cadman Plaza, and we had passed it about a dozen times.
Well, when we finally got there, we found about thirty people in an auditorium, listening to a poetry reading by some couple. Alice and I sat down, but after hearing a few minutes of the awful poetry – “I am orgasmic man,” the guy announced solemnly – I started cracking up.
At first I tried to muffle my giggles, but I thought I would burst, and I had to run out of there, with Alice trailing me. Once outside, I collapsed in hysterical laughter, doubling up, my eyes watering from the laughter.
Since I had disgraced myself, we couldn’t go back in – the bright side is that we never got to pay the $2 admission fee – and it was 9 PM, too late to go into Manhattan.
We drove around aimlessly, finally going to Pip’s in Sheepshead Bay. But there were no seats there, so we ended up at the Floridian, drinking coffee and eating bagels. Alice and I, I sometimes think, could be the Mike Nichols and Elaine May of our generation.
Alice baked us cookies for Thanksgiving, and she gave them to me last night to make sure she wouldn’t gobble them up before Thursday.
When I told Alice I might relocate after graduation this summer, she urged me not to, for selfish reasons. “What would I do without you?” she said. Alice is the first person who reacted that way.
Today I woke up late and took a drive out to the beach. I found Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia on the boardwalk with their friends, and I stood around, listening to their talk of cigars and window-trimming and card-playing and people’s illnesses. I enjoy old Jewish people and I intend to use them in my fiction.
For the first time in days, I feel good about my life and confident about my future. It’s possible that I’ll continue to be as lucky as I have been in the past. And the endless possibilities in The Age of Possibilities are what keep me going.
Tomorrow may bring something very beautiful into my life. Who knows?
Tuesday, November 25, 1975
2 PM on a bright, cold afternoon. Last evening I went over to Libby’s in Park Slope to pick her up. I had wondered why her father had not been around lately, and Libby told me something she’d assumed I knew all along.
One night, a couple of months ago, her father packed up, took a lot of money and possessions as well as the dog, left a note behind, and has not been heard from since.
Since their father was something of a tyrant in the house, Libby and her brother seem to be much more relaxed at home now. I’ve always liked Mrs. Judson, who is an intelligent, gutsy woman. She’s been working in the garment center for many years, so she does already have a job.
But she misses her husband’s financial support, and the whole thing is kind of a shock. That’s why Libby is going to England for only 45 days rather than a year.
In her room, she showed me a self-portrait Les did. Like Libby, he’s a very good artist and is on a full scholarship at art school. He’s crazy about Libby (and very jealous of Mason, too) and he would like to marry her – something which is definitely not in Libby’s plans.
Although Libby isn’t super-bright, she’s very good with certain things. She showed me a beautiful embroidered shirt she’s making for Les, and her pecan pie was so delicious, I had to cheat on my diet and have a piece.
I like Wyatt, Libby’s funny and laid-back brother, and his sexy little girlfriend, too. Although he’s only 18, already he’s gotten two girls in the neighborhood pregnant.
Libby and I took the Belt Parkway to Kennedy, making it to the airport in no time. First Libby bought her ticket for England on British Airways, and then we went to the International Arrivals Building.
We found Avis’s parents there. They knew both of us and said they had expected to see more of Avis’s friends there. Avis’s mother kept talking away at us in her whiny, deliberate way; she has a civil-service mentality and her one note seemed to be that all young people – including me, Libby and Avis – should take civil service exams. Libby and I kept nodding politely.
Mrs. P told me that she saw Shelli at her office in the spring and that Shelli “looked like a trick-or-treater.” She also said that Shelli’s mother (whom she said drives people in the office crazy; it’s funny how people see things in others they can’t see in themselves) is currently on vacation, visiting Shelli and Jerry in Madison.
At least the woman is pleased that her older daughter is married. She said Ellen’s wedding at the UN Chapel (interdenominational, with Dylan songs and their own marriage vows), was “simply beautiful,” and both she and her husband seem to like Wade.
Both Wade and Ellen are now working for that Carnegie Hall Cinema-Regency-Bleecker Street group of theaters.
The flight from Iceland landed at 6:45 PM, but we had to wait an hour before Avis came out of customs. She looked the same as ever, although she was so spaced out, one would have thought she was tripping.
She hugged each of us in turn, with her mother crying, of course. Avis said she’d been up for two days straight, and so her parents took her home right away. Before she left, she said how funny it was to hear people speaking English.
Later, after taking Libby home, and after Avis had rested and showered, I spoke to her. She was kind of depressed, but that may have been the product of exhaustion.
The last six or seven months, Avis said, had been the happiest of her life and she’s afraid that coming back won’t be worth giving up Helmut and her life in Germany, even temporarily.
But Avis needs money desperately and will have to find a job very soon in order to pay back Helmut the money that she owes him and in order to raise the cash to buy a ticket home to Germany.
While we were speaking, she had difficulty in finding the right English word, and she said the cars and her mother’s kitchen and everything were so much bigger than she’s used to in Europe.
In the middle of our conversation, Avis just all of a sudden realized where she was, and so I told her to get off and try to get some sleep.
This morning I taught, and the class went well; I felt more relaxed than I had ever been, and now that I’m coming down to the end of the term and have only thirteen students left, I feel much better at LIU. Still, it will be good to have Thursday off.
Thursday, November 27, 1975
7 PM on Thanksgiving Day. Last evening I went to Brooklyn College and sat through Murphy’s class. I was pleasantly surprised to get an A- on my midterm.
Then, when class went out at 9:30 PM, I headed over to Libby’s in Park Slope; I feel as though I’ve been living there lately. Avis had come with Jacob, and as always, it was good to see him. And it was very good to get a good look at Avis: she’s as pretty as ever, thin, with her straight shiny-black hair.
There was a makeshift milk-carton-and-wooden-plank table in Libby’s bedroom, and the four of us sat around it. The delicious eggplant parmigiana and the garlic bread were ready just as I arrived, and I really enjoyed myself.
Avis got a job yesterday, one that Mason had told her about, a temporary thing until January, which is fine with Avis.
She told us about her trip to Greece. The Yugoslav highway was a horror, a two-lane affair with maniacal truck drivers, and Helmut and Bernd were shattered by trying to drive over that road.
In Greece, they slept on the beach, and Avis got to see all the things she learned about in her Classics courses. But Helmut, who’s very fair, got sunstroke, and they all came down with cases of near-dysentery. Avis said that in Greece, everyone carries around toilet paper.
She showed us photos of the trip, and of a trip to East Berlin to visit Helmut’s relatives. Helmut’s uncle, who’s a big shot in the East German Communist Party, seemed wary when his own teenage son became enamored of the Western items on sale at a special East Berlin store that is made especially for foreign tourists.
There were a lot of shots of Helmut among Avis’s photos. She adores him so, and evidently he’s completely devoted to her as well. Avis said that at first, it was very hard but that she’s managed to make a life for herself, meeting friends (some separately from Helmut) and taking jobs and coping with day-to-life in Bremen.
Libby seems to want the same thing with Les in England. The two of them toasted, “To European men.”
I said, and Jacob agreed, that a man would never change his life to be with a woman the way they are doing, moving to another continent.
For myself, I have too many goals to even consider something like that. And apparently there never was any consideration of Helmut coming to stay with Avis here, or of Les moving from England to New York.
Of course, they’re both in school in Europe now. Helmut got into the University, studying biology, and it will take him another four years till he finishes; evidently he’s a smart guy. Anyway, if Avis is so blissfully happy, I cannot question things.
The whole night was very pleasant: Wyatt and Angelina were around, and Mrs. Judson was in and out. After midnight, we went downstairs for tea and some apple pie that Jacob made. He’s working at Bay Ridge High School now, going for a master’s in business at Baruch, and in addition to his motorcycling, Jacob is now taking flying lessons.
We just sat around the table bullshitting for a long time. Libby’s worried about Mason, but he doesn’t want to see her, so she said that Avis and I should check up on him and see if he’s okay.
Avis said she wanted to see my writings, as did Jacob, and we talked about Shelli and Jerry; Jacob and Avis met Shelli at the same time, while spending the summer of ’70 working for Welfare.
It got late, and we got silly while cleaning up, splashing each other with water from the kitchen sink. Finally, I told Libby to get off my lap – we’re very physical with each other, in a playful way – and Jacob and Avis managed to get themselves together for the drive home.
I didn’t get back home until 3 AM and didn’t wake up until 11 AM today.
Thanksgiving was rainy, a good stay-at-home day. Alice came over early, and we sat around talking for a couple of hours as we watched the Macy’s parade.
She didn’t go to the Jonathan Schwartz thing in the Village because Andreas told her it wouldn’t be safe. Nor did she go to Robert’s party for the visiting Marty and Ruth.
Around 2 PM, Alice left to go to her Uncle Wally’s house in Canarsie, and at around 3:30 PM, we had our huge turkey dinner that Mom had spent days preparing. Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel came over.
Grandma Ethel’s Aunt Shifra, Dave Tarras’ wife, died yesterday, so Grandma was very upset. She came to this country with Shifra and Dave after her own mother died back in Europe and Great-Grandpa Max was already living over here. I liked Aunt Shifra a lot.
The only non-family member at the dinner was Bunny. I nearly choked on my turkey when Bunny told Grandma Ethel, in talking about her “mood” ring, that she was in a car with a guy the other night and the mood ring said she was “horny.”
And of course it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Grandpa Herb turning purple from coughing or Marc getting drunk on wine or Mom saying, “Nobody’s eating a thing.” But seriously, there’s so much to be thankful for.
Friday, November 28, 1975
3 PM. It’s funny how the pace of life has speeded up. Since Avis’s arrival on Monday, I find myself once again surrounded by my friends. Instead of merely writing, I’ve begun to be involved with people again.
I need times like these, though, for if I simply insulate myself and write, eventually I’ll have nothing to write about except what it feels like to be a writer.
Last evening, before they left, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel gave us all Chanukah gelt: the holiday comes out so early this year. Marc is going to take Grandpa Herb’s car while they’re in Florida, and of course I’ll have the keys to their apartment.
Late last night, Scott phoned from Chevy Chase. I was really surprised to hear from him. He said he and the five other people in his house – mostly law students like him – had finished off a 16-pound turkey and that he was calling to “give thanks for friends like you.” (I was a bit embarrassed by that.)
He was pretty busy studying for his law school finals next week, and after finals are over, he will have papers to write. He asked about various people – Mikey, Mandy, Elihu – and of course wanted to know everything about Avis.
When I told him I had seen Avis the night before, Scott got very excited. He wanted her number to call her immediately. As always with them, I felt I was in the middle of the muddle, as I didn’t know if Avis would want to hear from him.
I decided that Avis should decide for herself, so I lied to Scott and told him that Avis was spending the weekend with her sister and brother-in-law and I didn’t have their number. Scott told me to give Avis his number, with the instructions that she could call him anytime.
The girls at American University, Scott said, “have nothing between their ears.” He’s going out often and he’s not celibate, but there’s no intellectual satisfaction or companionship in his relationships. Sheila is visiting him this Christmas, but they’re just friends now.
Sheila, Scott reported, is still in Manhattan and she’s got a job with Abby Hirsch, the publicist. Before hanging up, Scott told me to come down to Washington and to bring Avis with me.
Also last evening, I called Ronna, but her sister said that she had gone into Manhattan to feed her boss’s cats. Sue said the family had Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night at Ben’s and then yesterday they visited their grandmother, who’s now out of the hospital.
I also phoned Mara, but her brother said she was out, probably at Bob’s.
This morning, while walking to the Ryder post office, I heard someone shout, “Richard Grayson!” and I looked up and saw Nancy bicycling down the street. Instinctively, we hugged each other, and she thanked me for the note I sent her when her father died.
She said it was beautiful and that she would have responded, but she went through a very rough time. Now she’s going for her master’s in marine biology at Adelphi, and she’s a teaching assistant there. Financially, Nancy said, she’s struggling along – in contrast to the big salary she lived on as a teacher before she got excessed.
We just kept hugging each other and vowed to see each other soon. When I told Nancy that Avis was in, and that Teresa would be here for the holidays, she became excited and said it would be so good for all of us to get together again.
Nancy said that she’s grown so much, even from bad things like her dad’s death, and that she’s not sorry anything happened. I agreed with her totally.
She looked gorgeous. This morning she had taken a break from studying and cycled out to Rockaway to stand by the beach. It restored her spirits, Nancy said, and I could totally relate to that. Nancy is like me in a lot of ways.
She said that she talked to Vito last night, and he’s doing fine. It was so good to see Nancy, just as it was nice to hear from Scott and to be with Avis and Libby and Jacob on Wednesday, and to be with Alice yesterday.
I am loved by my friends, and I love them back. It’s the quality, not the frequency, of the relationship that matters. That’s true me of me and Ronna, and of me and everybody else.
Sunday, November 30, 1975
It’s just Sunday, ten minutes after midnight. Tonight, Saturday night, was an ordinary time, yet it was also extraordinary. I called up Ronna at 6:15 PM, after she’d just gotten home after spending the day with Susan in Manhattan.
I asked if she wanted to do something, and she said she was tired, but that I could “come over for a few hours and just hang out.” When I warned her that I’d be sloppy-looking, she said that was just fine with her.
So I went out, my sloppy self, and had dinner at the counter of the Arch Diner. I was alone at the counter, and people in the booths might have thought: Look at that boy, how lonely he must be. But I treasure being alone like that, with my cheeseburger and Tab, cogitating, contemplating, drifting.
When I arrived at Ronna’s, she was asleep; I felt bad when her sister awakened her, but Ronna said it was all right. Waking up, she looked so beautiful – even though of course she told me that she looked “grungy.”
We went to her room and she showed me the books she and Susan had bought at Barnes and Noble, and I read her a couple of my stories, to try them out for my reading in SUBO, and we kissed hello and hugged a little.
Her brother wanted batteries for his tape recorder, and her mother wanted ice cream, and Ronna needed Tampons and Band-Aids, so we took a walk to Ralph Avenue, past the Flatlands Avenue street-corner hitters. It was such a mild night, a perfect night for walking.
I told her about Avis and Libby and Nancy and Scott, and she mentioned her friends: Maddy, Henry and Ivan. She and Ivan went to see The Sunshine Boys and the Christmas show at Radio City; Ivan, she said, was spending the holiday weekend in Tucson.
I was surprised to hear that he and Ronna were seeing each other again, and I asked about Vicky. Ronna said that Vicky and Ivan are having “a trial separation,” and then she laughed ironically, saying that what was what she and Ivan said they were having when he left her for Vicky four years ago.
It’s funny: after stupid me saw them together on the beach this summer, looking more in love than any couple I can remember seeing, I never figured Ivan and Vicky would break up.
I mentioned Stacy, and from what Ronna said, apparently Ivan finds Stacy as puzzling as I do. We talked about how strange it is, with everyone involved with everyone. But in a way it’s comforting.
Back at home, we had ice cream and then went to Ronna’s room. We started getting very physical and one thing led to another, and soon we were lying on Ronna’s bed.
But she did not want to have sex with me; we lay in each other’s arms, talking softly. She is very attracted to me, but she’ll feel funny about sex without love; Ronna said she does love me, but she’s not “in love with” me anymore.
“Are you in love?” I asked her.
“No . . . maybe . . . I don’t know,” she said, and told me it hadn’t been physical up until now, at least not recently. I don’t know if she was referring to Ivan or Henry or someone else entirely, and I didn’t think it my place to ask her.
We lay in bed and I told her oh so many things: how scared I am that she and Shelli were just flukes, that no one will ever love me again; how I want her to be happy, genuinely and unselfishly; how I care for her and how grateful I was that she didn’t stifle me and always let me see the friends I now need; how I really have faith in the world and how I believe that pain spurs on growth (I thought of what Nancy said); how my year in the house when I was 17 and neurotic and scared, had made me into a better person; and oh so much else.
Ronna told me that she’s sure someone will love me again, someone better than she, and she told me how beautiful I looked the first time she saw me naked, in our room in the Raleigh Hotel during Jonny’s bar mitzvah.
We hugged and we kissed, but we did not have sex. But talking about it helped us both so much; we are over the hump, I think (no pun intended). We are friends.
I left my sleepyhead friend at 11:30 PM and came home feeling wonderful. I think it would be absolutely terrific if Ronna and Ivan got back together again, but if it’s Henry or somebody else, I’ll still be happy for her: the best girlfriend I can imagine a guy having.
6 PM. I bought my 1976 diary today. I bought it in Rockaway, at Rogoff’s on Beach 116th Street, and I feel as though I waited until I found the right moment to buy it.
Lately I’ve been neglecting my diary and concentrating so much energy on my fiction that I’m afraid there’s been little of my own inner self on recent pages.
Since last week, though, my life has shifted subtly, and I am a person and not just a writer again. I’ve entered a new phase, I think, and I’d like to go back to confiding, to dreaming, to crying, and to hoping again.
I save everything that’s been written to me, or that I’ve written. Ronna told me she does the same thing. She still has the note I wrote her in the Raleigh Hotel: “Sleepyhead – I went out for a walk.”
Last night I did not get to sleep until very late. I read the Times and listened to the radio and masturbated, thinking of Ronna. It was so good to just hold each other in bed last evening.
Examining my feelings, I pretty much realized that I am not that upset over the situation with Ronna. I hope it’s Ivan that she’s in love with. I guess I’ve always been a capital-R Romantic, and I’ve always recognized the special kinship between Ronna and Ivan going back to their childhood, and I still feel that they belong together.
I know Ronna loved me, but I also know that she never stopped loving Ivan. There were a couple of hints that made me believe it is Ivan she’s falling in love with.
She said that the relationship wasn’t physical yet, and that the feelings might be all on her part.
And when I talked about how insecure I am sexually and spoke with envy about studs like Sean and Costas who brim with confidence, she said she thought I was about normal that way and that she’d recently discovered being pleasantly surprised she was when a guy she thought was very macho opened up to her, telling her how vulnerable he was.
I know that look in Ronna’s eye, and I think she was talking about Ivan. I love them both, and if they do manage to find each other again, I’ll be the first to give them my blessing. And I’m not a martyr, either; God, I have so much in this life.
Of course, if it’s Henry or a new man, I’ll be happy for Ronna too – just as I am happy that Avis has a Helmut to share her life with.
This morning I listened to an interview with Jon Baumbach on the radio, an interview about the Fiction Collective. Mimi Albert’s novel got a great review in today’s Times Book Review, but the reviewer wasn’t as enthusiastic about the books by Clarence Major and Jerry Bumpus.
Mara called to say hi before she left for Maryland. She’s a good friend, and even though she’s going with Bob, we are still pretty close. I can confide in Mara, gossip that she is – and gossip that I am.
No one – not Mara nor Vito nor Mason – has heard from Helen since she entered that 3HO ashram in California months ago. People keep writing Helen letters and they get no answers.
Mara didn’t want to talk about grad school because we’ve been writing and she’s told it all there. On Tuesday she’s taking a federal test for a really good job, and her roommate informed her that she’s decided not to move out after all. I told Mara I’d see her at Christmas and wished her a good trip back to Maryland.
Gary called, asking if I wanted to come over. When he said that Betty was ill, I understood the reason for the invitation and declined. He and Betty have been together for six of the last eight days – but that’s Gary for you.
I drove to Rockaway to say goodbye to Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, who leave for Fort Lauderdale on Thursday. Cousins Lynn and Ben and their kids Beth and Kenny were over, as Lynn had stuff for Grandma Ethel to bring to her parents. Lynn and Ben are really very nice, and I had a pleasant time.
After I told my grandparents to have a wonderful winter in Florida, I drove home. Tomorrow is December.