Thursday, November 13, 1975
8 PM. Driving to school last night, I heard the news of Justice Douglas’s resignation, which saddened me. I always admired him. But there is ray of good news: the state is moving toward passage of a strict plan for fiscal regulation of the city and there are signs that public opinion is changing in favor of federal aid to New York.
My midterm was very difficult, and I filled my exam book with ramblings on English word borrowings. After finishing the test, I went to the Graduate Student Organization office in LaGuardia – it’s so strange to be back there – and found Marie and Donny.
They said they’ll have the first issue of Junction out in December. They finally prevailed upon me to become prose editor after I exacted a promise from them that I would not have to make trips to the printer or do anything other than read and decide on submissions and copyread the finished proofs.
As I walked to my car, I got drenched; when I got home, even my undershorts were wet. During the night I had a dream about Leon, a very pleasant dream in which Leon told me how much he cared for me as a friend. Over the years I’ve always sought his approval, and I guess now I’ve granted it to myself in a dream.
If I saw Leon now, I’d want to hug him, and the same thing goes for Slade. When I was an undergraduate, two or three years younger than they were, I idolized them. But now in some ways I’ve gone further than either of them although I’d always thought they would be going places way before me.
Actually, I’d love to see any of the people from LaGuardia whom I now rarely see: Elspeth, Marty and Ruth, Skip, Jerry and Shelli, Stanley, Mark and Consuelo, Jill.
It’s been a year since that very pleasant dinner Avis, Mason and I had at Leon’s Riverside Drive apartment; that night was really the germ of my decision to write a novel. In less than two weeks, Avis will be back in America, and I can’t wait to see her and talk with her again.
My alarm woke me abruptly this morning, and I suffered through rainy traffic down Flatbush Avenue to get to LIU. Prof. Silveira said that there are only twelve or thirteen more class meetings left in the term, and he’s preparing his final already.
I had a fairly informal class today, covering a lot of loose ends; mostly, though, we went over paragraphing, and I met with students individually concerning their papers. After hanging around the office for a short while, I left for home.
In today’s Fiction Workshop, we went over a story of Todd’s, another of his autobiographical Max stories. Maybe it was the weather, but everyone seemed slightly lethargic.
After class, I decided that I was tired of eating at the Pub, and so suggested the College Deli, as I hadn’t been there in years. Simon, Sharon and Anna came with me.
Instead of joining us, Denis and Josh went to the Pub. The two of them seem to be getting closer; I hear they were together on Thursday. Josh and I haven’t phoned one another in over a month, but maybe our friendship will get stronger again someday.
(I just read Josh’s latest story and I’m glad to say I loved it; Josh managed to keep his usual melodrama under control, and the story worked beautifully.)
Anna, Sharon, Simon and I had an enjoyable meal at the deli. After all this time, we’re very much like a family.
Anna is as dizzy as ever: at one point I was talking about Dr. D’Avanzo, my freshman French teacher, and Anna said that her sister knew her. I said, “She’s dead, you know,” and Anna, in all seriousness, replied, “I think my sister knew her before she died.”
We all broke up after that sunk in. Anna took the subway home – she was so happy because her Lit class tonight was canceled – and I drove Simon to his shrink.
When I got home, I found a familiar manila envelope lying on my night table. Mom had apparently opened it and written on the envelope, which was of course addressed to me in my own handwriting: “Congratulations. You sold another story. Love, Mom.”
I looked inside the envelope and found a small note on the letterhead of California Quarterly:
Dear Richard Grayson,
We’d like to use “Talking to a Stranger” in a forthcoming issue.
Please send us some information for our contributors’ notes and your soc. sec. # for a small check. Also let us now if you’d like copies (beyond two) at $1.00 each.
My first reaction was: Wow. My second reaction was: I don’t believe it yet. . . It is a screwy business, because a story sold is not real to me until I see it in print in the magazine.
But of course, this is really something, and it gives me an added boost of confidence. After all, I’m only 24 and here I am, publishing stories, teaching college. If anyone had told me this six years ago – even two years ago – I would not have believed it.
And yes, I have achieved the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year: I sold three short stories in 1975 – and I even got paid for them. “Talking” is a story I’m very fond of, because it’s about Brooklyn College and Ronna and Josh and May of 1974 and Mrs. Ehrlich and about my very real feelings.
Maybe when it sinks in, I’ll feel even better. But let me step out of character for a moment and allow me to give myself a pat on the back: “Nice going, Richie!”
I’m going places; I can just feel it. Life has been so good to me. In a couple of weeks it will be Thanksgiving, and this year I’ll have a lot to be thankful for.
Sunday, November 16, 1975
7 PM. Feeling very logy this afternoon, I finally decided to rouse myself by taking a drive into Greenwich Village. Luckily, I found a parking space right on West 8th Street and made my way to the Eighth Street Bookshop, where I browsed among the little magazines.
If I had had money, I would have bought a bunch of them. I found an old issue of California Quarterly, which is published at the University of California-Davis. It made it even harder to believe that my story will be in a future issue.
I also came across the latest issue of New Writers, which had an index to past issues; my name and “Rampant Burping” were listed, and it gave me an odd feeling. It must be wonderful to walk into a store and find your work in a magazine or book on sale there. Even today, just seeing my name listed in the index perked me up.
As the sky turned azure, I drove back to Brooklyn. Today was a winter day, definitely.
Last night I had a spell of nausea which I soon recognized as an anxiety attack. I weathered the feelings rather well, deciding that if I had to throw up, I would. But mostly I tried to get in touch with my feelings, and I think I came across the reason for the (mild) attack.
Lately I’ve been doing so well, I’ve found myself scared at all the strides I’ve been making. At 24, I’m a college instructor; I have nearly three degrees with honors; I have published (and unpublished) stories; I’ve lost weight and earned money and gotten along with my parents, and I have friends and I’ve been loved and loving.
Yet there are still feelings that remain from those years of anxiety and fear. Yesterday’s small uncomfortableness happened because I wanted to remind myself where I came from.
“Hey, big shot,” the nausea was saying, “remember, you’re the kid who used to get nauseous every day, the friendless boy who couldn’t leave his room, the person who was afraid of planes, buses, movies and staying out late. Don’t lose sight of that, because if you do, you’re not much better off than you were seven years ago.”
And I do want to remember the nausea and the fear and how I would lock my knees and elbows as a way of making certain my body would not fall away when I started to depersonalize; how I would belch and burp and take Rolaids and always wrote out an emergency room pass in my looseleaf so it would be ready just in case.
In gym, I had Rolaids and Pepto-Bismol tablets secreted in my white athletic socks; I dared not go to school without Compōz in my back pocket; I wrote superstitious initials like “NNN” (for “no nausea now”) on my desks; I avoided talking about anything important in Dr. Lipton’s office.
I was terrified of my vomiting, scared of letting what was inside me out for myself and the whole world to see. I was afraid to go to sleep.
But I got myself out of it, and because of that struggle, I’m a better person today; those experiences, the daily hell of my teenage years, made me what I am.
My accepted stories all bear gerunds in their titles: “Rampant Burping,” “Summoning Alice Keppel,” “Talking to a Stranger.” Add to that “Coping,” which New Writers may take, and you have a progression – burping, summoning, talking, coping – that sums up my life. I’m glad I’m leaving the world something, however small.
Yesterday afternoon I went over to Grandma Ethel’s to bring her a bathing suit for Florida from Mom, and I stayed to have dinner with her and Grandpa Herb.
Grandpa Herb and I watched boxing on TV (he said he fought in the military and that a guy in his unit named Lynch, cousin to the heavyweight champion, wanted to turn pro), and Grandma Ethel asked me about school and told me about Cousin Wendy’s health problems and about the closing of the senior citizens’ center near them.
They’ll be leaving for Florida in less than three weeks, and so they gave me the new key to their apartment and tried to get me to believe that by mistake, the hardware store didn’t charge them for it, and so they were returning the 50¢ that I had left in payment. In the end, I figured it was useless to resist taking the money back. I’ll miss them when they’re away.
I very much enjoyed being with Ronna on Friday night and I know she did too, even though she said she didn’t want to see me regularly. Henry is still her boyfriend, and they went out on Saturday night.
Monday, November 17, 1975
9 PM. This evening was the Wine and Cheese party to celebrate the publication of the Series III books of the Fiction Collective. At the last minute, I decided to drive into the city, and after a short search, I found a parking space on MacDougal Street, several blocks from the Soho loft/art gallery where the party was held.
I looked moderately dashing in dark pants, a subdued blue blazer, one of Dad’s button-down blue striped shirts and navy tie. Most people there – writers especially – were dressed avant-garde/slob, the men in turtlenecks and jeans and sneakers, the women in those flimsy floor-length dresses or knee-high laced boots.
There was only wine and cheese, and people walked around making small talk and holding glasses and trying to look as if they knew everyone else. Peggy was a delightful hostess, just as she is a delightful person in the office.
She introduced me to a young couple: the woman (whose name I forget, although I should remember it) works for the Collective on Thursdays; she used to work next door in the CUNY Office for the Handicapped until the budget cuts eliminated that department.
She had gone to Brooklyn College and asked me, “Weren’t you famous there?” Probably she read about my exploits in old issues of Kingsman.
Her boyfriend, who looked about 17, graduated BC a year before me and he had just finished law school. They were a nice couple, and they helped Peggy out by selling the copies of the Fiction Collective books Peggy had brought.
I recognized Clarence Major, which wasn’t hard as there weren’t too many blacks there, and congratulated him on the publication of Reflex and Bone Structure; I also sent regards from Susan, who had been a student of his.
I also congratulated Mimi Albert on The Second Story Man; while gesticulating vigorously, she spilled wine on my cuff. Peggy’s husband, the very distinguished-looking Dick Humphreys, a Columbia professor, was there, as were George Braziller of the publishing firm that distributes our books and his son Michael.
Ron Sukenick is a grey-haired handsome man who seemed very nice. I recognized Mark Mirsky from his photos, and someone pointed out Marianne Hauser, but I didn’t say anything to either author. One feels so foolish talking to strangers. I recognized one man vaguely and stupidly said to him, “Who are you?”
“Richard Elman,” he said. “Who are you?”
I felt awful, having been so blunt with a famous literary critic and managed to skulk away. (I later learned Elman was a novelist; I had mixed him up with the much more famous Richard Ellmann, but I still felt weird.)
I saw one guy there who I saw at the poetry reading last week; his name was Tom, and he’s an undergraduate student of Jon’s and Clarence’s and Jill Hoffman’s; he had the cutest mustache and unbelievable blue eyes. If I decide to have an affair with a male poet, it’ll be Tom. He didn’t seem to know anyone at the party, either.
I was glad that finally Peter came and brought some of his MFA class: Laurie and Harvey and another woman who’s become a great friend of Laurie’s. We all sat in the corner of the studio; there seems to be a great camaraderie among the first-year fiction students.
Laurie mentioned that Elihu had told her that Leon had forgiven her in absentia; she told me Jerry had come into the store and told her all about his “coming out” and “he left out no details.” Laurie kept joking about Jerry and Shelli until suddenly she remembered my connection with them. She said she was mortified at her gaffe, but I laughingly told her that I’d forgive her in person, not in absentia.
“You always were a better man than Leon,” Laurie said. She is an amazing woman, but like Consuelo, she has a way of looking right through a person that’s a bit scary.
I spoke to Peter, but he was being besieged by two gushing females who saw his photo on his book jacket and were hungry to chat up a real author.
Jon Baumbach, after a few drinks and a cigar, loosened up, although he still wouldn’t do the Walter Brennan imitation he’s supposedly famous for. He was pleased that I’d sold another story but said he had never heard of California Quarterly.
The party lasted from 5 PM to 7 PM, and it was a good experience for me. I felt – as I’m sure did everyone there who’s not already published a book – that someday the party would be for me and my own book.
Wednesday, November 19, 1975
6 PM. I haven’t decided as yet whether I will go to my class at the college tonight. Prof. Murphy is so boring, and I don’t want to see my midterm grade, and I would like to get a good night’s sleep tonight.
My cold disappeared during last night’s sleep, and I awoke feeling refreshed after a dream in which Elspeth became the star of a TV situation comedy called Elspeth.
Peter Spielberg was giving a reading at SUBO today, but I decided to skip it, as I’m trying to stop being a writer and start being a person – at least for a while.
But it’s difficult: last evening I was searching for something to do, and I ended up planning the stories I shall read at the Wine and Poetry reading on December 17.
And of course there was my job at the Fiction Collective today, but that’s a different matter altogether. I enjoy taking care of correspondence, I love working with Peggy and feeling that I’m accomplishing something.
Every week Peggy tells me how grateful she is for me, and at the party, Vivian Sloan – I finally remembered her name! – told me, “Peggy was going crazy before you came.”
Today I got a letter from a 34-year-old guy on the Coast who has a novel about marijuana-smoking farmers in Mexico, based on his own experiences there, which sounds like it could be interesting.
The new Collective author is Juan Alonso, whose long novel will be coming out next fall. Raymond Federman’s book, Take It or Leave It, scheduled for the spring, is very long, too, and it’s causing havoc at the printers because he wants no pagination and he relies on a lot of weird typography.
Peggy told me that Ron Sukenick, who lives in Boulder, said that everyone in New York looked very depressed to him. Not that it’s surprising. Just as it was looking as if things would start happening vis-à-vis federal aid, Ford again nixed it – for the moment, anyway.
But Congress starts its holiday recess soon, and default may come at the beginning of December. The rumors of a month-long CUNY shutdown and staff pay “furlough” were on the radio today as part of a Board of Higher Education plan to save money.
Tomorrow, teach-ins and demonstrations are scheduled at BC, but today’s undergraduates are so apathetic that even this doesn’t seem to shake them.
It was a cloudy, mild day, and I took a break this afternoon to walk on the Brighton Beach boardwalk.
What we do to elderly people in this country is a crime; I walked along, looking at the benches filled with men and women, all at least forty years older than I, and I felt as though I were in an old people’s ghetto.
You can see that there’s plenty of life in most of these people, but society has told them they’re useless, and after a while, most of them have begun to believe it.
I bought the Village Voice, and although I had vowed never to answer another personal ad again, not after Connie and Vince and Julia – yep, you guessed it, I did. Oh well, it keeps me off the streets.
I spoke to Libby again today to concretize plans for picking up Avis at Kennedy on Monday. It’s possible that her parents or Ellen and Wade will be at the airport, but still Libby and I want to be there to greet Avis. Libby is leaving for England in December to stay with Les on a 45-day pass.
I spoke to Mason today as well. He’s taken over Marisol’s old room in the Avenue J apartment (Marisol took over Karen’s room when she moved out, and Patty has Libby’s old room.)
Libby is pretty happy about Mason having his own place, but he needs a job even more now, and he’s not having any luck. Because of budget problems, the Gilbert School had to let him go as a permanent sub, and they cut back Patty’s teaching hours, too.
Libby was upset when she really blew an observation when she was teaching on Friday. The disciplinary problems caused such havoc that the observer said he couldn’t tell that a lesson was going on.
Thursday, November 20, 1975
9 PM. I’m feeling much better about things tonight. I’ve come to the conclusion that my writing is the most important thing in my life, although it’s not my entire life.
Rollo May, a psychologist whom I respect, says in his new book that artistic creation is a very healthy thing, perhaps the most healthy thing. Everyone needs something to live for, and now that I’ve found my purpose in life, I’m not going to give it up. As for being ruthless, well, I have a conscience and I’m not going to do anything that I consider immoral.
I didn’t go to class last night, and I’m glad I had time to relax. Gary called to give me a blow-by-blow account of his very busy week. The interview on Tuesday at Yankelovich, Gary reported, was an “8” on a scale of 1 to 10. (I just knew Gary would say it was an 8.)
I’m not surprised to hear that Gary is at Betty’s house all the time now; he probably speaks to her every night. Perhaps I’m just saying this out of jealousy, but I really don’t think I could handle that kind of relationship again.
As much as I long for someone to love, I need the feeling that I’m a separate person; I’ve discovered that I even need secrets, secrets that I can tell in my intimate writings.
There was an ad in the Village Voice from a 21-year-old female student who was giving herself three weeks before popping pills and ending it all and she wanted someone to write to her and give her a reason for living.
Obviously, she doesn’t want to die; otherwise, there’d be no point in putting in an ad. On the assumption that it was on the level, I wrote her a short letter; I guess I do have a need to express myself in writing.
This morning Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for President; I think he’s got a chance to beat Ford for the Republican nomination.
My class at LIU went very well, so I felt good for most of the day. I made a really awful pun unconsciously: we were going over the pluperfect tense, and I told the class that the construction “had had” was perfectly acceptable.
Someone asked if they could substitute just “had” for “had had,” and I made the statement, “Two hads are better than one.” Ouch!
Again, it was an unseasonably warm day: 65°; it’s about the tenth Indian summer we’ve had this year.
At 2 PM, I picked up Marc at the Kings Highway station. Today was his last day of class at Technical Careers Institute, and he’ll graduate next week with the highest marks in his class. I’m proud of Marc and don’t feel at all superior to him because I’m an academic with graduate degrees.
The mother of his old girlfriend Fern didn’t want her to get serious with Marc because he wasn’t going to be a doctor or a lawyer; that’s snobbery I don’t hold with. Besides, in today’s economy, skilled workers are beginning to have more prestige than college-educated workers; they certainly make more money.
At 3 PM, I went to Brooklyn College for my tutorial with Baumbach. While waiting for him to get off the phone, I told this guy in the poetry program, Michael Malinowitz, how much I enjoyed his reading last Friday.
Jon and I went to McDonald’s, where we combined lunch and the tutorial; he paid for me, which was surprising and nice. He and I are getting fairly close now, and he confided that our class wears him down because of all the tension.
Jon said I was the most normal person in the class, that Denis was very annoying and Josh was “paranoid.” Peter told Jon that Simon gave him a lot of trouble, and I think I’ve definitely replaced Simon as Jon’s favorite.
I did tell him, however, that I felt uncomfortable when he brought up our work at the Fiction Collective in front of the rest of the class, who weren’t even invited to the party.
I asked him what he meant by cautioning me against “professionalism,” since I assumed that was a good thing. Jon said he just wanted to warn me against “slickness.”
Today I ran into a bunch of people: Ronna’s sister and cousins going out for falafel; Alex, who got a part-time job doing silk-screening; and Elayne, who looked particularly well and to whom I showed my latest acceptance, the one from California Quarterly. (She kissed me after reading it.)
In the workshop today, we went over a story of Sharon’s, and afterwards we retired to the Sugar Bowl for a hilarious and sometimes bitchy session of kidding and gossip. I enjoy the class, although Denis still seems very hostile. After driving Simon to his shrink, I dined alone, happily, at the counter of the Arch Diner.
This evening, Alice phoned. She was depressed because she had been supposed to spend the weekend in Jersey but then Andreas called and said something had come up. So Alice cried and overate to the point of nausea. By the time I spoke to her, she was feeling better.
I mentioned to Alice that Dad had seen her this morning when he and Marc were driving to Manhattan; he called to her, but Alice had already gotten on the Flatbush Avenue bus. She was taking it to take it to the LIRR station to get the train to Cedarhurst to see her eye doctor on Central Avenue.
I invited Alice to our Thanksgiving dinner, but she had already told her uncle in Canarsie that she’ll attend his family gathering.
Alice said that she still takes disappointment so badly. I asked her if she wanted to go to a mixer on Saturday night, and she said she’d probably be available. It will be good to get out at least one night this weekend.
On Monday, of course, Avis will be coming home, and Libby and I will be at the airport to see her.