Sunday, August 1, 1976
8 PM. It was a sunny and pleasant day today. There were cool breezes that reminded me that it is August. The summer is half-over and even though we still have the dog days to get through, I’m already looking forward to the bright days of September and October, always the best time to be in New York.
I’ve always looked forward to autumn’s crisp weather and the return to activity after a leisurely summer. But this year will be different: I will not be returning to school as a student this fall.
Occasionally I’ve wondered whether I shouldn’t have gone on for my Ph.D. or tried to get another degree in anything, just so I could remain in school. But I’m glad I decided to discontinue my formal education after seven years and three degrees; let’s see how I function outside of academia.
Speaking of seven years, today I’m beginning the eighth year of my diary-keeping. Seven years of my life have come and gone since that tentative, uncertain summer of 1969. They’ve been interesting years (he said with a knowing smile).
I’m not sure I’ve become less scared than I was at 18, or whether I have “become a different person.” There is still within me somewhere the Richard of August 1969. I’ve lived a cautious and lonely and reluctant life, and I suppose I shall continue to do so.
I cannot imagine what I will be writing in my diary seven years from now, on August 1, 1983, or what the person doing the writing will be like. I still cannot believe I’m 25, and I know I’ll never be 32: that seems impossible.
Alice came over yesterday afternoon, and since Andreas is still in Europe, she went to the movies at night with me. We saw Murder by Death, which was good for an occasional chuckle, and afterwards we went to The Arch.
Alice has become my best friend in recent months, and the person I confide in more than any other. We talk about our dreams of success as writers, and whether fame and fortune can make for happiness. (Alice believes that, while I am skeptical.)
Alice tells me she’ll wait for Andreas “forever” and thinks that maybe he’ll marry her after his mother dies. I wonder if I’ll ever love again. I’ve been avoiding the possibility of another close relationship for years, and love and sex aren’t all that important to me.
I guess some people think I’m nothing but a saturnine prig, and maybe they’re right. Certainly I’m repressed and frustrated – but not to the point of it affecting my ability to live. Sometimes I’m scared that I am a very cold person with no capacity for loving, having only a nice idea of what love is like.
Still, I’ve chosen the weird kind of life I’m living, and I have no regrets. I had a nice time with Alice last night, and during the night had two dreams that were so pleasant that the vague memory of them makes me smile.
One dream had me reaching out to both Ronna and Ivan, and achieving a kind of communion with both of them; certainly for years I’ve wanted to remain close with both of them, something I know is no longer possible in the world of reality. I guess that sums up my Gemini/bisexual need to make contact – or maybe it just goes back to my childhood failure to really get in touch with my mother and my father.
In the other dream, I was graduating college, and Lyndon Johnson came back from the dead to address us; he was standing right in front of me and was so tall I could barely manage to see his head. He made a speech which moved me.
This afternoon I was in Washington Square, sitting on a bench, walking around, watching magicians, listening to music, looking at people. I discovered Washington Square seven Augusts ago, and once again it seems a good place to go to seek out life.
I had a late lunch at The Bagel, served by my friend the waitress whose name I don’t know. Driving back to Brooklyn, I was singing and yelling like a joyous lunatic.
Tuesday, August 3, 1976
6 PM. I feel as though I’m living a drawn-out version of the split-second between the time you know a car crash is going to happen and the time it does happen. And I feel just as powerless to prevent the disaster.
I don’t know where my life is going, but things do not look good. The rejections keep piling up now, day after day. I’ve given up hope of selling my story to a big women’s magazine and making a mint; it looks as though no one cares for my poetry, either.
At 25, I feel like a has-been, with the height of my brief career as a writer and teacher all but over. There’s nothing to look forward to in life, and certainly I now have less security than I have ever had.
It’s almost painful to live in the house these days as a mood of anxious despair settles over the family. Everyone’s into their own dream world. Mom and Dad were fighting last evening. I heard him yell, “You think in Florida I’m only going to work five days a week?! You think someone’s just going to hand me $50,000 a year?!” and then he slammed the door.
Like me, Marc and Jonny are ill-equipped to face the realities of adulthood. They seem to think money is something one always has enough of. Well, I worked hard for seven and a half hours today, and when you’re being paid $3 an hour, you know how valuable each dollar is.
I’m not calling it quits with the job yet, but as I get into it, the Fabrikant operation looks shadier and shadier. The nursing home people and the doctors also seem to be interested in using these poor unfortunates as a means to make money via Medicaid and Medicare.
The idea, though unspoken, was conveyed to me by Max Fabrikant: Get as many tests and examinations and x-rays done as possible so that we can rake in the dough from the government.
After spending the day at New Haven Manor, I feel I might be ready to reside there soon myself. (Why are all the garbage pails in the lobby Planet of the Apes garbage pails?) The residents are all more or less nuts – mostly schizophrenics – and I can see how other people can get hardened to their suffering.
I drove two people back and forth to the clinic today: Jeanette Watson, 40, who told me, “I once had a Southern white boy but he died,” and Clara Levine, 63, brought up in orphanages and now “hoping to find a decent companion for marriage.” Needless to say, they are both nearly insane.
Fabrikant came and went today as I tried to straighten out his files, which are so out of date that it almost seems simpler to throw them away and start all over again. Blood tests ordered in April haven’t been done yet, and if the patient doesn’t have a Medicaid number, the tests will never be done.
I don’t know if New Haven Manor is a Bernard Bergman operation, but certainly all the owners seem to be heavily-Yiddish-accented Orthodox Jews. Anyway, I told Mr. Fabrikant that I didn’t want to work tomorrow, and he said that was okay with him.
Despite the hassles, I’m glad I’m working. My free time is more precious now. I wish I had something more important to live for. My writing doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere, and I truly doubt that I’ll get a teaching job this fall.
I’m totally adrift; there is no one I feel really close to now. Last night, before I went to bed at 10 PM, I decided that I’ll probably end up rushing into marriage with the first decent woman who comes along.
Everyone clings when he or she is unhappy and unsure about his or her future: I’ve seen it happen with Shelli and Jerry; Avis and Helmut; Ellen and Wade; Mark and Consuelo, Gary and Betty, etc., etc., etc.
And maybe marriage wouldn’t be such a big mistake after all. It would take my mind off things, at least temporarily. I feel in need of emotional nourishment.
Thursday, August 5, 1976
7 PM. I’m pleased to report that I’m feeling pretty relaxed now. I worked from 9 AM to 3 PM today, and it was interesting and not unenjoyable.
It was rather an easy day, for instead of going back to New Haven Manor in Far Rock, Mr. Fabrikant told me to go to Seaport Manor in Canarsie to assist this woman, Susan, with patients seeing the G.P. and the podiatrist.
Susan was friendly and easy to work with, and as the patients were all elderly rather than mental cases, it made things a little more normal. I’m getting the hang of filling out Medicaid and Medicare forms, and Susan has the Seaport Manor files well-organized and up-to-date.
It was a bit hectic, shuffling patients between the foot doctor and the medical doctor, but I did well, I think. Some of the old people are fairly interesting characters.
I talked with a lovely lady of 90, Mrs. Belinsky (like the Russian critic), who has a room with her husband of seventy years. They seem to fit together so naturally; it looked very tjotjog.
I got a free lunch, which was pretty spare even by old-age-home standards, and finally finished up at about 3 PM. I guess there’ll be good days and bad days working for Mr. Fabrikant, but I’ve found it tolerable so far.
Yesterday I saw Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel at the house, and when I left for work this morning, Grandpa Nat was sitting on the porch waiting for Dad. My grandparents were happy to hear that I’ve got a job.
Last evening I went over to Josh’s for a couple of hours and we sat and bullshitted like old times; I’m glad we can still do that. (Maybe it’s because I’ve come off my high horse). Josh says he’s “stagnating,” but he’s doing all right. During the week, he sees Cherille, and he’s got a girlfriend upstate on weekends, a beautiful artist’s model.
Josh is really pissed at Baumbach for going away without changing his grades; Jon really shouldn’t have done that. Despite everything, Josh deserves a chance to graduate with his MFA at least.
Among other things, we talked about Allan, who’s doing okay at Columbia. Maybe I’ll be able to relate to people better now that I’ve decided not to come off as Mr. Terrific.
In a way this deluge of rejections I’ve been getting has been useful; it keeps me from getting too cocky and overconfident.
Amazingly, I wrote another (mediocre) short story in the past few days. It’s called “Frieda Wachsberger Does Not Believe in Happiness,” and the title is probably the best thing about it.
Yesterday I got a letter at the Fiction Collective from the editor of the Westerly Review. He thanked me for sending him a copy of Sukenick’s 98.6 and told me TWR #2 will be out in August – which means September, but I can wait.
Today I got this marvelous note from Loris Essary of Austin: “Just want to drop you a note that I read ‘Summoning Alice Keppel’ in the new Panache and liked it very much. Your piece in Interstate will hopefully out before September 1.” I can’t believe a person could be that thoughtful.
And today even the mood in the house seems to be lighter. Dad seems more cheerful and optimistic, and he’s psyching himself up to go into a new business.
I don’t know if my own sense of renewed well-being is real or illusory, but I’m enjoying it while it’s here.
Today was an ace day when everything clicked just right. Tomorrow may bring a new disaster, but I’ll hold on till another day comes along. I feel very fulfilled and very much at peace.
Friday, August 6, 1976
9 PM and I’m ready for bed. Today was a long, exhausting day, and I feel like I’m floating on the Wreck of the Hesperus or something. I’m not sure I know what I’m writing. And I wanted to write some fiction tonight yet!
I don’t know what I’m trying to prove or what. I just stood on line at the bank in Kings Plaza for half an hour (total standing-in-line-at-the-bank time this week: two hours) among all those nice engaged couples saving up for their weddings.
Going to the bank was a foolish mistake, but I wanted to deposit the check Mr. Fabrikant gave me, so I could see my big $236.48 balance. I’m wealthy, by Richard Grayson standards, you see. Anyway, I got soaked walking to my car, which I parked, with little foresight, in the outdoor lot.
Last evening, when I went to get that diet ice cream, I found Alice at the playground playing paddleball with a fiftyish photographer named Mario. (I had seen Alice there the night before, too, on my way to Josh’s house.)
I watched their game till its conclusion, and although Alice lost, she’s a very good player indeed – and is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.
Mr. Fabrikant called at 10 PM to tell me to meet him at 9 AM today at New Haven Manor. I was there this morning on the dot, but he was half an hour late, so I sat in the lobby with the residents, watching Barbara Walters.
After nearly a week, the residents of New Haven Manor do not seem all that strange, and it occurred to me, lounging on the chair in the lotus position, my finger in my mouth, that if a stranger were to walk into the lobby he’d obviously think I was a mental case like the rest of them.
One very demure lady came out with the following monologue:
“I have only one ovary left, Mr. Edrich. . . They operated in ’56 – that’s when all the trouble started. . . Yeah, they’ll cure everyone. . . Yeah, they’ll cure everyone. . . I put my trust in God. God is my hero. . . I told him my mental capacities are excellent; there’s nothing in my head whatsoever.”
Anyhow, it was a long day. Dr. Hassan came, and this girl Joyce and I set him up with patients; it was a real hassle completely going over the files. The filling out of the Medicare and Medicaid forms is so dull; it’s not hard once you get the hang of it, but the work is so boring, I began to feel my patience wearing thin.
Finally, at 4 PM, Dr. Hassan saw his last patient: Jerome Trapani, the old man who constantly makes a kind of farting noise with his mouth. (“That sound is very annoying,” Dr. Hassan told me as he got ready to leave for the day.)
As soon as Mr. Fabrikant took care of firing Joyce – which he’d told me on Tuesday that he would do; of course all day I didn’t let on and when she came out of the medical office with red eyes, I still pretended I didn’t know what was going on – he had me in for some kind of important session.
This whole week of work, Mr. Fabrikant said, was to give me “an overview” of the way the business operates. Now what he wants me to take charge of is the x-ray work and the dental work at New Haven Manor. He told me he needs me to work on my own and do an effective job so that he doesn’t have to check up on me.
Mr. Fabrikant said it’s a very marginal business and it’s important that I get as many patients x-rayed and to the dentist as possible. I’m going to meet him Monday at New Haven at 9 AM (I declined an offer to work on Sunday) and he gave me a check for the week: $62 and change.
I drove home in one of the heaviest rainstorms I’d ever seen; the whole peninsula was flooded. I noted that that Mr. Fabrikant lives in Bayswater right next to Far Rock and that I was paid on the books. So perhaps this thing is legit after all.
Monday, August 9, 1976
9 PM. We’re awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Belle, which should come into the Long Island area at about midnight. The metropolitan area has been on a hurricane watch, now changed to a hurricane warning, all day.
It’s very unlike me, but I have this mad desire to head out to Jones Beach and face the fury of the storm at landfall. It’s so rare that I’m ever facing the awesome power and brute force of nature. Although this hurricane is causing a great deal of damage, somehow it seems noble.
And I can’t deny that it’s all very exciting, listening to coverage on the radio, taking precautions, awaiting the worst. Times of crisis are useful in that they unite everyone in a common effort against a common enemy. Surely no one can be on the side of the hurricane, although I feel some kinship with the storm, a kind of Paradise Lost Satan figure.
I always loved the great disruptions in our lives, like the raging snowstorms and blizzards that closed school. I would always wake during the night to check the progress of the snow and turn on my bedside radio, hopeful that school would be canceled; often, I would be frustrated hearing the names of all the suburban schools that were closed only to learn that the New York City public schools were remaining open.
Another disruption I loved was the Great Blackout of November 1965 and the transit strike that followed it for about two weeks after New Year’s Eve. At the time, I was attending Franklin School, and being in Manhattan made me feel more a part of things, seeing all the camaraderie among New Yorkers up close.
I also remember the time two airplanes collided above Brooklyn. Mom had to see her obstetrician in Park Slope that day, and I went along. That was in December 1960, I believe, and I remember people in the doctor’s office arranging aid for the disaster victims.
These events always seemed to bring people together. There has been no national event that truly united the nation in one communal effort since World War II, which preempted everything. (The assassinations brought only grief, Vietnam only anger, Watergate only disgust.)
Driving home from work along Beach Channel Drive at 4 PM – I detoured briefly to Shore Front Parkway on Beach 90th to watch hopeful surfers trying to pick up the early swells of the hurricane – I was reminded of a very clear picture of myself, my pregnant mother, and Uncle Marty, who must have been about 18 or 19 and who was driving us on the same road during the summer of 1954.
A very bad hurricane was coming, and Marty was taking me and Mom back to our apartment in Brooklyn from the bungalow in Rockaway. The scene is so vivid in my mind even though I was only three years old.
The water was coming off the bay onto the road, drenching the car again and again; the windshield wipers couldn’t go fast enough. I was scared because it was so dark and wet and windy. But secretly I was thrilled, for the memory lingers pleasantly in my mind.
I wonder: How did that spirit in me that loved excitement and force become stunted? I became by turns frightened, phobic, withdrawn, hesitant – and I am still a very careful, very cautious person. I have not yet learned to take the risks that really matter.
Maybe that’s why I want to drive down to the boardwalk at Rockaway now and let the waves and the winds and the rains engulf me. Whew! What started out as a mention of the hurricane turned into a rather long digression – but perhaps a useful one.
As for today, I worked from 9 AM to 4 PM, taking people back and forth between New Haven Manor and the clinic on Mott Avenue to have x-rays taken and to see the dentist.
It’s easy work, and as I get to know them, I’m learning a lot from the people of New Haven Manor. None of them are as crazy as they first appear. They are becoming human beings to be now, and I’m becoming quite fond of some of them.
Wednesday, August 11, 1976
5 PM. See, I knew I’d be feeling better. I did force myself to get out of the house yesterday afternoon, and thank goodness for that. I drove up to Morningside Heights to attend a poetry reading at Columbia.
I was early and I walked around Broadway; I had forgotten how fond I am of that neighborhood. The reading was in the Dodge Room of Earl Hall, and there was punch and cookies, and young people with whom I could feel some sort of kinship.
The poet, Daniel Halpern, editor of Antaeus, who has rejected many of my stories, is a baby-faced young guy, chubby, with an Afro. He seems very shy and engaging, and his poems were all good. It’s clear he has a respect for words, the one thing all decent poets have in common.
Halpern said he hadn’t written in a year until recently, and then he started writing a poem a day. I understand how frustrating it must have been for him. Anyway, I enjoyed myself and left feeling much better than when I had come in.
I wish I could’ve expressed it to the poet, how good he made me feel, but I’m too shy when it comes to telling the truth. Anyhow, today I wrote him a letter, thanking him for doing good things for me with his poetry.
I lingered on the Columbia campus for a while, scribbling in my notebook on the steps of Low Library before going over to Hungry Mac’s to have dinner.
I must go up to Morningside Heights more often.
At home, Marc and I tried to convince Mom and Dad that only an idiot would get married these days. I believe that most people get married for only one reason: fear of loneliness.
Mom kept saying how ridiculous my arguments against marriage were, and just then Grandpa Nat walked in. “You’re a man who’s been married for over 55 years,” I said, putting the question to him. “If you were young today, would you get married?”
Grandpa Nat said, “You’ve got to be crazy to get married.”
I turned to Mom as the others were laughing and said, “I rest my case.”
Tonight Mom and Dad leave for ten days of looking for a business in Florida; Dad is pessimistic and Mom is desperate to move down there. Whatever happens with them, I know I can see my way clear on my own.
If anything, this last week has proven that working 9-to-5 is not the hell I’ve always pictured it as being, and I’ll gladly work full-time to support myself if that’s necessary. There will always be time to write.
Last night and this morning I worked on and finished an entirely new version of “The Popish Plot.” It’s less marketable than the first unfinished version, but it’s more me: playful, ironic, a collection of incidents and anecdotes replacing the function of plot.
Last weekend I was on the wrong track, trying to study and replicate the stories of Ann Beattie and other “successful” short story writers, when it’s impossible for me to imitate them successfully. I’d rather work at being a first-rate Richard Grayson than a second-rate Ann Beattie.
So I won’t get my stories in The New Yorker. Or the American Review, either; I got another rejection from them today. Luckily I was in a confident mood and immediately sent them a new submission. I am prepared to keep doing that until either the magazine or I stop functioning.
Today was a warm, sunny day, and I lay out on the beach at Rockaway – yay! – tanning my cute little body and reading Gorky’s My Childhood. Look, life is not so bad. I expect depression at this point in my life, and I know there will be good times, too.
Besides, it’s the only game in town at the moment. Life is unfair, but once you’ve accepted that, it’s a lot easier. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone else for a minute.
Tomorrow I have to work, and Friday as well. It’s a drag, but if I weren’t working, not working would be the drag. (The paradox of human nature.)