Friday, February 13, 1976
4 PM. Well, Friday the Thirteenth did not turn out so badly. I’m tired now, but I have the remainder of the day to relax and unwind.
Last night Alice called, and I convinced her to come with me to the Golden Gloves at St. Thomas Aquinas. By now Alice has done so many way-out things with me that she’s up for just about anything, and I said I’d pay for her ticket as part of her birthday present.
After I picked her up, I finally found a parking space blocks from Flatlands Avenue. The gym was very crowded and we had to stand. Alice didn’t enjoy the lightweight fights very much. “It’s barbaric to have two 16-year-old boys try to knock each other out,” she said.
And Alice found the crowd, mostly Irish and Italian working-class men, “out for blood.” I guess boxing is something only a man could be interested in; somehow, despite all my sophistication, I like the ambience at boxing matches.
There’s something about a New York fight crowd with their beer and flannel shirts and their street-wise comments – two blacks were fighting and one of them was named Tony, so the guy next to me shouted out, “My money’s on the Eye-talian! Go get him, Tony!” – that makes me feel very much at home.
I have to admit, though, that the more fights I see, the more my interest in boxing itself, apart from the ambience, begins to wear thin. When I dropped Alice off at 10 PM, she said she’d be ashamed to tell Andreas where we went.
This morning I was kind of nervous about teaching my first class although I never really felt any anxiety. I got to LIU at 8:30 AM, wearing a sport jacket and tie just for the first day. I checked out the classroom to get a feel for the room, and then went to the Humanities office.
Margaret greeted me and gave me a key to a new office, as well as elevator and bathroom keys. She said she kept my mailbox up, and I waited for the professor whose class is being split up.
It turned out to be George Economou, the rather well-known poet whose work I’ve read and admired in little magazines (I told him so). He gave me a list of the 13 or so students he was giving me; he kept 20 in his class and selected the rest at random.
Prof. Economou said he’s covered two stories with them and said I could continue doing that; they have to get to know literature and discuss it to see that literary criticism is not too abstract a thing, that it has relevance to their lives.
At 9 AM, he sent in the students to my class, and I could immediately tell that they were not too happy to leave; Economou must be a good teacher.
I was somewhat at a loss for words today, and I was honest with them, telling them I was called at the last minute. I related the story of how I got my first job when Dr. Hartmann died suddenly. The class is mostly a quiet bunch, but they seem fairly intelligent; with one exception, they’re all black.
Although I hemmed and hawed a great deal, I managed to have a short discussion on narrative point of view, and I told them we’d discuss Frank O’Connor’s “My Oedipus Complex,” which Economou already assigned, on Wednesday (Monday being a holiday).
After class, I went to my office and read O’Connor’s story myself for the first time. I also introduced myself to Dr. Tucker and told him of my connections with Jon Baumbach and the Fiction Collective. He was very nice and inquired about my own writing and showed me issues of Confrontation.
I made my office hour from 10 AM to 11 AM on Friday, and I’m all set.
It was a very mild, sunny day today, and that cheered me and helped to prevent me from feeling let down this afternoon. The promise of spring is here.
I went to the Brooklyn College library to get some books out to help me teach, and while I was there, I ran into John Ashbery, who was carrying audiovisual equipment.
Each time, teaching will get easier, I imagine. At least I have a long weekend to get ready for the rest of the term at LIU.
Saturday, February 14, 1976
4 PM on a sunny Valentine’s Day. Avis just called to say that she had begun to pack and that I should come over this evening. We’ll all go out to dinner. Avis says that Libby has an announcement to make, and I can guess the nature of it: love.
Today in the Post, there were classified ads, personal ones from loved one to loved one. Mom put one in that said, “Danny: I love you five bunches worth. Marilyn.” She explained that when she was a little girl and people asked her how much she loved them, she always said, “Five bunches worth.”
I looked through the paper to see if there were any other ads from people I knew, but I came across only one very syrupy poem that Gary wrote to Betty.
Driving out to Rockaway earlier today, I decided that I’m too old for love. I will probably be mostly celibate for the rest of my life, living in the suburbs of passion and concentrating on other things.
That doesn’t mean I’m asexual; in fact, I feel I’m a very sensuous person. I just express my sexuality in other
words ways. Of course, this is very likely sheer nonsense. If I meet the right person, I’ll make love till the cows come home and way after they’ve left the barn again.
What it is, is I’m afraid to take chances and risk a relationship again. So I’ll put myself on the sidelines and be a spectator. I’ve been fooling myself into thinking that just because I’m lonely, that means I’m ready for intimacy.
My attempts at love over the past sixteen months have been effortless, vague, self-defeating and totally unsuccessful.
Por ejemplo: a couple of weeks back, I put a personal ad in The Selling Post, a biweekly newspaper mostly for people looking to purchase cars or typewriters. I thought I might get more responses if I made myself sound tragic, so I wrote that I had leukemia.
My sole response was in a childish scrawl, to wit:
“I am a 25 year old Nassau County Clerk. Who enjoys alot [sic] of the same things you do. I love fireplases [sic] even if I don’t have one that [sic] near my house in a disco longue [sic]. I am 5 2 inches tall and 107 pounds. Please call me up. Mon, Tues, Wed, on [sic] Sunday. Sunday all day & 6.30 [sic] at night. – Lois”
And that, ladies and gents, is the end of my ad-sending days. If I went back into therapy, doubtless I could discover the reason why I’m unable to relate sexually to women – or to men, for that matter.
I have good friends, but friendship, as we all know, is the enemy of sex. But who knows? I’m not going to shut off any options, and maybe someday I will discover the secret of intimacy again.
Basically, I’m behaving the way Josh used to with his writing: afraid to risk failure, I quit before the game is underway.
Yesterday I got a new bed because my old one was collapsing. I’d like someone to share my bed, but the likelihood is that will never happen and I’m reconciled to that.
Last night I went out to dinner with my parents, and when we were waiting to be served, Dad was staring at me and remarked that for the first time, I’m beginning to look my age. At 25 (almost), I feel old – too old to fall in love again.
Today I went to the bank, bought some books for Avis, washed my car, and paid a visit to Grandpa Nat. All week I’ve been getting nothing but rejection notices, and I despair of selling another story; I don’t even have the money to send out submissions at this point.
I found my old peace symbol chain, the one I bought on my nineteenth birthday; I haven’t worn it in two years, but I put it around my neck again. I wore it for such a long time, and it feels at home on my neck and resting on my chest.
Today my central concern is numbness: not depression but anhedonia, our old friend, the absence of pleasure. But I mustn’t exaggerate; that is not the whole truth, in reality.
Sunday, February 15, 1976
10 PM. Avis is now on a jet somewhere over the North Atlantic. She will land first in Reykjavik, then finally at Luxembourg, where she’ll get a train to take her back to Bremen and the life she shares with Helmut.
It’s hard to believe, but it may be a very long time before I see my friend again, and as I said to Libby as we drove home from Kennedy Airport an hour ago, it seems like she and I were just going out to meet Avis’s plane in November.
Last evening Libby and I spent our last full night with our friend. We arrived at Avis’s parents’ apartment around 7 PM; apparently there had been a rather heavy scene with her mother that afternoon, so we left quickly to pick up Jacob.
The four of us had dinner at this very nice little Chinese restaurant on Sheepshead Bay Road. We sat in the corner booth, eating, drinking the wine we bought beforehand, and having a terrific time.
Libby’s “good news” did not involve Les but her health: she went to her own doctor, the man who delivered her, and he said there was no need for surgery at this time. He told her the cyst may dissolve by itself and that Libby should come back in a few months.
Avis reported that she spoke to Teresa on Friday, and Teresa may be returning to New York in the next few weeks, as she feels it may just be too much trouble to start a new job and find a new place to live in California and wait until May to come back here.
The restaurant food was delicious, and there was a little Chinese girl, 2 or 3, who toddled over to our table and amused us. Because of the wine and the atmosphere, we became rather silly. All in all, it was the most enjoyable time I’ve had in quite a while.
There’s nothing in life to compare with the feeling you get being with good friends, and while I don’t know Jacob very well, I like him enormously and I get the impression that the feeling is mutual. Avis is trying to persuade Jacob to come to Bremen on his trip this summer.
After dinner, we bought a quart of Baskin-Robbins ice cream and went to Jacob’s house, where we sat in his bedroom with the ice cream and the stereo for a mellow time. The music – Joni Mitchell, Ravel – was good, and I still love to hear Avis’s Bremen stories.
From her stories, I feel I know Helmut so well by now, hearing about all of his little habits and eccentricities; he sounds like a fine person.
And now I also hear stories about Les and England that Libby tells. Libby’s been keeping her watch on Greenwich Time, for sentimental reasons, and I kidded her about it although it’s kind of sweet.
Les sounds like a very dedicated artist, a person with whom I could feel a kinship. Libby says Les is obsessed with his work and that “he’d rather draw than do anything.” She chuckled when she said that.
Jacob really seems like a remarkable person. He’s a businessman now, but from his room, I can tell he’s a Renaissance man. There were books of poetry (a lot of Anne Sexton), and photos he’d taken, and a leather briefcase he’d made by hand (!). He also rides a motorcycle, bakes pecan pies, and loves Andrew Wyeth and Don Quixote.
The four of us being together tonight was as nice as that evening we had at the Judsons’ when Avis first arrived home. We got a bit nostalgic, and it struck me that I met Libby and Avis and Jacob back in 1971, five years ago.
Finally, we were all getting sleepy, so we gathered ourselves together and Avis said goodbye to Jacob. On my way home I dropped Avis and Libby off at Avis’s parents’ co-op, and I returned to this afternoon to pick them up.
Avis’s parents were away for the day, and they had said goodbye to her that morning. She finally managed to get her duffel bag zippered, but Libby’s going to have to mail her some stuff she couldn’t fit in, and I’ll ship her books and records as soon as her sister sends me a check to cover the postage. (Avis gave away a lot of her clothes to Libby and Angelina.)
On the way to the airport, we smoked two joints that Marc provided as a going-away present, and Avis became more relaxed. At Kennedy, we waited a long time with Avis, drinking and changing her money and sitting and waiting.
Finally, at about 8:30 PM, her flight was called and Libby and I hugged Avis as she boarded the plane.
Wednesday, February 18, 1976
11 PM. It’s been a long day, and I’ve been looking forward to writing in this diary tonight. It’s an oasis of reflection and sanity and peace, a sort of substitute psychotherapy session.
Surprisingly, I slept soundly last night and awoke feeling refreshed at 7 AM. I took my now-familiar drive down Flatbush Avenue, parked in the municipal lot and went into my office before class.
Wonder of wonders, my English 12 class comes on time; now all I have to do is wring a bit of class participation out of them. Today “we” discussed, or began discussing, Frank O’Connor’s short story, “My Oedipus Complex.”
I began with a lecture on Oedipus from Sophocles to Freud, and then I tried to get the class to talk about the story. While I haven’t had much luck so far, I’ll continue to press them to talk.
I tried discussing the themes of the story and asked them about jealousy, incest, what parents tell children about sex, and I managed to get a few tentative, and usually very intelligent, responses. Perhaps I’ll have better luck on Friday.
In any case, the fifty minutes goes fairly quickly; I’ve gotten used to the longer class sessions I had last term. Both Martin Tucker and George Economou call me by my first name, and I rather like that.
I had a long stretch of the day to myself and probably wasted too much of it reading newspapers, exercising, eating, and watching soap operas. But I did send out more stories. I’ve decided to send things out Special Fourth Class Book Rate now because I just cannot afford first-class mailings anymore.
Marketing short stories takes quite a bit of time, and I feel I’ll probably have committed the entire Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses to memory by the time this year’s edition becomes outdated.
I’ve become quite disheartened about the fortunes of my novel. What I now realize is that, like most autobiographical first novels, it’s probably too factual and too pretentious a narrative. The only thing that may save the novel is its technique.
I was foolish enough to answer yet another personal ad in the Aquarian, this time from a college student in Union, New Jersey, who sounded interesting: bisexual, Gemini, interested in writing and music, a self-confessed romantic, around my height and weight. Not that I expect answers anymore.
But at least writing these things – constantly trying to define myself to a stranger, shows some kind of a purpose: it sharpens a capacity to know how I can find out what kind of a person Richard Grayson is.
This evening was Prof. Kaye’s class, and I arrived early at the college, finding Laurie, Gail, Ron and Harvey at the Pub, just as our class used to go there last year.
Joining them, I felt at home: I think I was more a part of their group than Ron, who’s just joined the first-year Fiction Workshop. Baumbach is their tutor, but they haven’t gotten in touch with him, and yesterday he asked me to tell them to get moving and make appointments with him.
The problem is that Laurie, for example, works on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days Jon comes in.
Laurie is such a beautiful woman, and I never noticed before tonight how attractive she is; I can even fantasize about having an affair with her although I can recall how much she intimidated me when she was a senior and yearbook editor and I was a lowly sophomore.
I like having a crush on someone again. Gail and Harvey are such nice people, too.
After having Peter Spielberg as their workshop professor last term, they’re having trouble adjusting to Jack Gelber, who tends to be too talkative, relating stories about literary people he knows, stories like how Ken Kesey stole Gordon Lish’s wife.
Professor Kaye presided over a boring discussion of Lord Jim, then lectured brilliantly on Ireland and Joyce in preparation for next week’s class on Dubliners.
Saturday, February 21, 1976
9 PM. All day I’ve been trying not to feel guilty about failing to write any stories lately. I am too compulsive. As Baumbach told me, “You’re not a story machine.”
I guess I’ve been feeling a bit lost because I’ve had no rejections – not to mention acceptances – in four days, which is very unusual, given that I’ve got about 45 manuscripts out.
Yesterday, in search of ideas, I went to the college library and stayed there until closing time. I spied Yolanda busily involved in research and I purposely waited for her at the library door. As he was walking off campus to his car, Dean Smith said hello to me as I waited there; I told him I’ve been teaching and selling stories.
Yolanda said she was going to a dance recital in Manhattan that evening, and she had planned to hang out until it was time to leave. After I told her I’d hang out with her, we walked over to SUBO.
On the way, I saw the convertible that Josh just bought; he was taking his mother and Annette for a ride. The Karmann Ghia is kind of junky-looking, but Josh said it drives better than it looks.
In SUBO, Yolanda and I went to the Music Room and chatted about writing and people’s names and BC professors; we really seemed to get on well, and we have a lot in common. Both of us are interested in writing and literature, and we have lots of friends in common.
She’s the only black girl I’ve known that I’ve been sexually attracted to, but Yolanda, like Nancy, just sees herself as everyone’s “friend”; I don’t think she really goes out with men. I guess Yolanda’s kind of a female counterpart to myself.
Over dinner at Burger King, we started talking about soap operas and other things, and the time flew by so quickly, I felt bad because it was so late that Yolanda might not make her show, so I drove her to the D train, which is faster than the IRT. I had such a nice time with her, mostly because it was an unexpected delight.
Mom bought an enormous dollhouse. It’s huger than I’ve ever imagined a dollhouse could be. But it’s perfect for Mom: she can busy herself with furnishing it, and no one will ever mess up the carpeted stairs or fail to make the beds.
Marc and his friend Arnie have bought a lot of posters, pipes and other “head shop” merchandise and they took a booth at the Nostrand Avenue flea market. But business is so bad that they made only $16 all day today.
Last night I had a dream which belied some of the things I wrote yesterday about Ronna and Ivan. In the dream, it was a Saturday night and I had a date with Ronna. She was two hours late and I was starting to get angry.
I went to a bedroom and said, “Who’s there?” and I heard Ivan say, “I’m sorry.” He was in bed with Ronna; his clothes were on the floor in the bathroom. I felt terrible, seeing them together, and when Ronna got out of bed in a nightgown and came over to me, I wouldn’t listen to her excuses; instead, I slapped her very hard in the face.
I began to bend her fingers back and she was whimpering in pain so much that my heart melted; I could not bear to hurt her and let her go back to bed with Ivan.
I didn’t enjoy the idea of sharing Ronna with him, contrary to what I had thought yesterday. And in the dream, it was Ronna I cared about, not Ivan.
This morning I went over to Alice’s and gave her the birthday presents I got her: a set of tarot cards with instructions and some Fiction Collective books.
Alice was her usual delightful self, busy with her Flatbush Life column – this week she’s interviewing a Japanese-Jewish comedienne – as well as her crush on Jonathan Schwartz, and all her many projects. She showed me her article in Model’s Circle, a very slick magazine that looks nice.
Alice is sending a certified letter to her brother, containing a check so that he can buy a $70,000 house in Bethesda. I never realized he had that kind of money, working for the State Department.
While I was there, Andreas called, and later Alice showed me the satin boxing shorts he had bought her for her birthday.