Friday, April 1, 1977
5 PM. If I ever needed a vacation, I need one now. It looks as though I might be ill for most of the vacation week with a cold.
Luckily it appears that I won’t have that much to do for the Conference. Today I made preliminary arrangements with Dr. Whipple; the Student Center will be closed all next week, and I’ll get back to him the following Monday.
So basically I have the next ten days at my leisure. I have a key to the MFA office, so I can go in and out when I please now.
Right at this moment my body seems to be falling apart. It looks like I’m the last one in the family to succumb to this virus infection which started with Marc two weeks ago.
Jonny is still very congested; Mom caught cold on Tuesday and she’s not in very good shape; Dad got his symptoms yesterday, and I am starting to feel sick now. My throat is sore and scratchy, I have postnasal drip, my ear is stuffed up, and I feel run-down, depressed and achy.
What I would like to do is hibernate for a week till I got back my strength and my – ta-da-de-dum – my “will to love life.” Right now I feel like a torn-up, snotty piece of thrown-away tissue.
Last night I called Vito at the Abbey-Victoria newsstand and managed to have a pleasant, if sporadic (due to customers), conversation. He said he and his mother were so pleased to see Statements 2 “even though we didn’t understand one word of your story.”
I told Vito not to worry, that most of my friends can’t make heads or tails out of it. Alice and Gary said they enjoyed it, but that’s only because they’re my oldest buddies.
Vito said he’s not doing much lately: working at the newsstand, going to the gym, hanging out with his mother and Billy, seeing plays and movies (naturally he had definite opinions on the Oscars), giving advice on matters of the heart, and avoiding romantic entanglements on his own part.
I told Vito I’d seen Janice and Nappy, and he said his time with them was a terrible experience because Janice got so intensely involved with him. Vito’s brother’s wife and baby moved out of the house, “but everything’s okay.”
It was torture, but I wrote a review of Brad Gooch’s book; although it was one inanity after another, I sent it off to Len Fulton’s Small Press Review.
Yesterday scientists discovered that Uranus has rings like Saturn, so last night I walked into Jonny’s room and asked, “Did you see those pictures of Uranus?” Everyone cracked up, and I ended up holding my side for half an hour.
This morning I had a hard time getting out of bed. I skipped my office hour and then held a half-hour class at LIU, which was practically deserted on the last day before vacation. After I said goodbye to my students and Margaret, I came home to discover that Juice #4 finally came out with my story “Let the Reader Beware.”
It’s a piece of fluff, basically a joke, but the magazine was so poorly designed (the IBM Selectric they used made several typos) that I couldn’t get very excited about seeing the story.
Also, I wrote it on a Sunday morning in November 1975, and I can’t relate to it that well – although I still think it’s cute.
Anyway, the three copies mean my bookshelves have more Grayson material on them: one shelf and a third by now, 21 stories in all.
I went to Brooklyn College, got my office key, and found Harvey in the MFA office. There wasn’t much to do, so we shot the breeze for a while. He told me he’s got a story in the next Junction and mentioned that his Zone co-editors rejected Laurie’s “Shoes,” the story which appears in Statements 2.
When we left the office at 4 PM, Harvey said he’d be in next week to help me with whatever comes up.
It was cool again today. Ronna said she’d call me if she got in early tonight, but I’m fairly certain she will not. Not that it really matters at this time. The way I feel now, I don’t want to see anyone, least of all Ronna.
All I want to do is sleep and feel better, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible tonight.
Tuesday, April 5, 1977
7 PM. Well, I certainly had a bit more energy today. The weather is cold and rainy, but for some reason I didn’t seem to mind. It’s nice just to see the trees beginning to bud. It’s nice not to have terrible pains in my stomach anymore. It’s nice that it’s a Tuesday night and I don’t have to worry about getting up early tomorrow.
My sinuses are leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and Mom and Dad are fighting like cat and dog, and it’s 45° out, but I prefer to dwell on nice things.
I got a haircut this morning. Philip wasn’t there, but the receptionist doubles as a haircutter, and she did a pretty good job. For a while I was worried, but I decided my fears were sexist and the thing turned out pretty good, actually.
I don’t miss teaching one bit. After taking out some money at the bank, I did go to BC today. Jon passed on some publicity suggestions that Bruce Porter gave him yesterday, and I followed through on them and then went to lunch with Harvey.
We ate in Campus Corner, in a booth next to that of Edie, the girl with whom I had that unfortunate date five years ago. I pretended not to see her and she did me the same favor as Harvey and I discussed writer’s block, from which we were both suffering.
We talked about how frustrating it is that no one reads little magazines and said we’d self-publish books of our own fiction if we thought they’d be seen – but there are so many problems with distribution.
After gabbing for an hour, we left campus because there was nothing more to do in the office. People are starting to send acceptances to the Conference invitations I sent out. Roger Angell of The New Yorker is coming, as are Ursule Molinaro and Tom Glynn, the poet Guy R. Beining, some folks from The Paris Review, and others.
When I got home, a Jeff Burke from Harper’s called, wanting some information on the June Fourth Brigade terrorists. He actually believed my press release! Oh God, I had to tell him that I wasn’t sure how the directors of the Conference wanted it handled and that I’d get back to him.
This whole thing is probably going to explode in my face! Still, even though disaster may be at hand, I can’t help chuckling. I’m sure, however, that most people saw through that press release.
I wrote a story this afternoon: a seven-pager that seems to be okay, written in my favorite method. I took a title (“Slightly Higher in Canada”) and a first line (“When my aunt called to say that my father had gone to England to marry a cheap little tramp, I was the one who had to tell my mother about it”), and I wrote the story from there.
It’s a risky, careless method, but it does solve the problem of writer’s block. I’m so relieved to have written something and that now I don’t have that guilt hanging over me.
Last night I knocked off a different sort of piece, but it’s not very good; however, the idea behind it – a writer refuses an NEA fellowship because he decides he’s a phony – is terrific, and perhaps I can use it again.
Alice wanted me to go to some nightclub with her, but I just wasn’t up to it tonight. She told me she spent a pleasant weekend in Washington with her brother.
I have no plans for this evening. Probably I’ll get bored, but these days I seem to have an immense capacity to spend hours just doing nothing. I like to sleep a lot.
Mom and Dad have been fighting a lot again about Dad’s partnership with Max Rapinsky. Mom will not let him alone with that. To get away from her, Dad went out with Jonny to the movies tonight.
For the next several days I have virtually no responsibilities. Maybe I should go out and get laid or get into a fight or grow a beard or drink till I puke or something. In my safe little room, I can feel adventurous.
Let me open the window now and invite life in.
Thursday, April 7, 1977
9 PM. The best day of my vacation, this Maundy Thursday, except that I overate – though maybe that contributed to the day, too.
Last night Josh called and said he’s terribly depressed after being out of work and out of school since January. Josh claims he’s doing everything he can to get a job: sending out résumés, reading the want ads, going on interviews. He needs money to move out of his apartment and into his own place.
Josh says he doesn’t want a career but a job: a dull, routine job that will require no thought. Simon is trying to get him a job at NYU Hospital, where he works and makes good money, but so far he hasn’t had any luck.
On Monday, Simon, Josh, and Sharon went to visit Todd and see the baby. I guess I’ve remained aloof from my old MFA classmates, so nobody thought to invite me.
Josh said he’s running up bills and going into debt because he needs to spend so much money on entertainment to stave off boredom and depression. Of course, Josh’s attitude wasn’t very good in the first place.
This morning I awoke early, 8 AM, when it was terribly cold, and took the D train to 42nd Street. On the way there, I was entertained by two little girls from Ohio in New York to visit their bubbe, a little black boy reciting poetry, and a bearded nut about my own age who kept singing and saying he was going to be famous and produce “a billion-dollar-budget Hollywood epic.”
As we went over the Manhattan Bridge, I liked seeing the Statue of Liberty and the Bayonne Bridge in the distance.
At the Graduate Center, I met Gary, who looked a little pale – but don’t we all? – and who was wearing a three-piece suit. I was wearing jeans with no belt. We went up to the Dining Commons and spent two hours talking over coffee and tea. Gary tries to put up an optimistic front, but it’s obvious that things are not going that well for him.
A true friend, I feel good about Gary’s misfortunes, which save me the trouble of envying him, and which allow me to be someone he can lean on in rough times. Look at it this way: it was the first time I’d seen him since his wedding, nearly six months ago. If he hadn’t been fired, I wouldn’t have gotten to see him.
Yesterday he got depressed because he went down to Unemployment and found that Total Research hadn’t yet sent their form. Also, he noticed that they put an ad in the Princeton paper for “possible future openings.”
The problems with his parents and sister culminated in a terrible scene on Sunday. (He went to his in-laws’ for the Seder.) Betty had a terrible anxiety attack, one so bad that she couldn’t go to work for two days.
On Tuesday she went to see the psychologist she’d been seeing when she met Gary. (She stopped therapy after they’d been going out for a few months.) The psychologist suggested that Betty resume therapy and she also wanted Gary to see her individually.
Gary is quick to proclaim that there are no problems in his marriage, that he can function without therapy. But as I said, it couldn’t hurt and very possibly it could help, especially in this rather difficult time of job-seeking.
The whole situation has brought out Gary’s forgotten insecurities and inadequacies, and the rift between his parents and Betty – almost leading to a “choose either/or” situation – is giving him a lot of guilt.
While he says he’s trying to pinch pennies, Gary is so acquisitive, talking of his credit-card purchases of Waterford crystal, Persian rugs, a brand name of stoneware I never heard of, and various bric-a-bracs. (Apparently Betty’s the same way: she ran up a charge-card bill of $1500 before they got married.)
I feel closer to Gary. Never let it be said that I didn’t stand by a friend in need. Foul-weather friend is what I am: Klopman, the man you can lean on. At 12:30 PM, I said goodbye to Gary, who was going downtown to meet his father-in-law for lunch.
I ate at Bun ‘n’ Burger, browsed in the Gotham Book Mart, and back in Brooklyn I bought a new pair of shoes (the fourth pair in the same exact style that I’ve had), and relieved Harvey at the MFA/Fiction Collective office, where I worked for a while.
When I called Alice at the office, she whispered that Hilary’s leaving Seventeen in a few weeks; then Alice will become the editor of the Mini-Mag section. Wow, Alice is really moving up the world.
Later, at home, I got bored, and damn it, it felt really wonderful to remember what it’s like to feel bored.
Going for an aimless drive, I ended up in Canarsie, where I bought underwear. As a guy who wore briefs all his life, I found the pair of boxer shorts I bought were so sexy that I got excited just by trying them on at home.
Friday, April 8, 1977
6 PM. I suppose more monumental things have happened on Good Friday, but here’s a little tale for you:
Jack Gelber called me at noon today. He started saying how I really screwed up the mailings to the Conference participants: “They don’t know if they have to pay for lunch, they don’t know how to get to the college . . .”
I was in no mood to take any more shit. Jon had approved the mailing before I sent it out. So I said, “What are they, stupid?”
And what I heard Gelber saying was, “No, you’re stupid.”
Here comes a cliché: I couldn’t believe my ears. “What did you say?”
And again: “You’re stupid.”
For once in my life I had the presence of mind to say the right thing: “Well, if you feel that way, you can get someone who’s not stupid to do the work.” And I slammed down the receiver with such force that the phone nearly sank right through the night table.
Never has anyone ever called me stupid. That was a big mistake on Gelber’s part. After all, I may have many failings, but stupidity is definitely not among them.
I felt furious and shaken up and pleased with myself and finally relieved and sick to my stomach all at once. I developed a stomachache, a dull headache, a dizzy spell.
But I decided I don’t have to take shit from Gelber. I worked at Alexander’s, at the public library, at the Village Voice, at LIU, for Mr. Fabrikant – and I was never accused of being stupid, except perhaps indirectly by Fabrikant, and I didn’t stand for that from him, either.
For $400, Baumbach and Gelber wanted someone to run the Conference over a period of fifteen weeks: that comes out to $4 a day. Well, now let them run it themselves and see how they get along without stupid Richard Grayson to kick around anymore.
A few hours later, when I was still really upset, Jon called me. He said something about arranging a meeting this afternoon. I said, “I don’t want to be involved with the Conference anymore. I’m sorry.” And I just hung up.
Perhaps that was unfair, but I didn’t want to get upset on the phone. Even if Gelber apologizes, I’m not going back. But I haven’t fully believed that yet; otherwise, I’d feel much more relieved.
Jon must be upset with Jack, for not only did he lose his Conference coordinator but also his Fiction Collective volunteer as well. I’ll be damned if I’ll do another scrap of work for them.
I don’t ever want to set foot in that office again or be in the same room as Jack Gelber. Let them see how easy it is to carry out all the detailed orders that roll off their own tongues!
Of course I’m insecure, but I know I did the best I could, given the lousy pay. As for the money, I don’t give a damn about it right now. I’ll chalk this whole thing up as one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve ever had.
“You’re stupid”: I still can’t believe he said that, and at moments I wonder if I had heard wrong. If he had said, “You’re incompetent,” he would have been standing on more secure ground – but if I was incompetent, it was only because he and Jon were incompetent as well.
After I picked up my car at the service station, where the brake and the shocks were fixed, I walked into a movie at Georgetown. I didn’t even care what was playing; I just wanted to go in.
But I was pleasantly surprised because I ended up enjoying Fun with Dick and Jane a great deal. Probably because it was a “fuck the system” movie, I could enjoy a vicarious sense of revenge. Then I had dinner at the Floridian.
Although I’m still a bit shaky, I think once I can finally put this nightmare – and it has been one – behind me, I will be happier. I can concentrate of my stupid teaching and my stupid writing (I wrote a nice, mysterious story called “Transferences” last night) and my stupid personal life.
It may be freakishly cold now, but spring has definitely got to be here soon.
No doubt Baumbach will be phoning me again, but I plan to deal with that when it happens.
Sunday, April 10, 1977
6 PM on Easter Sunday. This weekend turned out to be quite nice, actually.
The relief that I’ve put the Conference behind me has started to settle in. I can see the possibilities for some relaxing weeks ahead as the spring term at LIU winds down and as the weather turns milder.
For once, I’m going to have a good time and not worry about either Guilt or Duty. I won’t let myself be talked into going back to the Conference. Actually, Gelber’s remark was just the excuse I’d been looking for, the straw that was one too many for this dromedary’s back.
Yesterday I spent a delightful afternoon with Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. It was one of those times when I devoutly wished I had a tape recorder with me as the regaled me with reminiscences about the family, telling stories about how Uncle Irving made and lost millions, about Grandpa’s Canadian bootlegger uncle Ben Benny, his Tante Lebesta in Oil City, and others.
I’m not sure why I’m such a family person now; a few years ago, my relations didn’t interest me in the least. But at 25, I am essentially a conservative, and I’ve returned to values I used to scorn. Lately, many of my stories have been on Jewish themes, and I feel more like a Jew – whatever that is – now than I ever did. Wouldn’t it be funny if ended up as a rabbi?
But getting back to the family: it does give me a sense of community. As crazy as Uncle Morris is, it’s sort of nice just to bump into him in the street, as I did yesterday: he told me he’d just come from “your mother-in-law’s . . . er, I mean your grandmother’s.”
Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb visited Uncle Abe in the hospital and were very shaken by what they saw. Abe cries all day, his memory is going, he’s lost weight and is stoop-shouldered and “looks a hundred years old,” according to Grandpa Herb.
Abe has given up on life now. He told Michael and Eddie that he can hear Annette summoning him. Maybe it would be better for the poor man; I don’t know how he can stand suffering after so many years of it.
Some people have rotten luck. Of course, some people, like Grandma Sylvia, have an indomitable will to live. I never realized before last week that Aunt Sydelle is the same way: she’s determined to enjoy herself in life, and after the horrible deaths of two husbands and all her other problems, who can blame her? In any case, Sydelle looks terrific.
Grandpa Herb said Uncle Jack is waiting for a bed in the hospital after the doctors found something on the brain scan. And Grandma Ethel is upset because Great-Grandma Bessie may take an apartment in Dayton Towers East on Beach 78th Street: if Uncle Jerry moves to Florida, she doesn’t want the responsibility of taking care of her stepmother.
I left their house at 4 PM, going out with Grandpa Herb, who was secretly going to buy cigarettes. Downstairs, he opened the mail and found an Easter card from “Betty-Hun and Bill.” Then we realized it was for a Mr. and Mrs. Barrett, who also live in the building.
Last night the sky was so clear that I could make out the constellations – the Big Dipper, Orion – with very little difficulty.
Back home, I wrote a four-page story using a favorite old title, “Subtle Kingship.” It’s about an Americanized Jew who stares with disdain on the subway at a newly-arrived Soviet Jew, who turns out to be his relative. I’m not sure the story works, but maybe I can use the idea in another form.
Today Alice and I went to the Brooklyn Museum to meet June, Cliff, and Cliff’s friend Don, an editor at a labor-relations trade journal. Cliff’s a photographer, of course, and wanted to see an exhibit of the work of Lewis Hine, who took fantastic shots of immigrants and child laborers at the turn of the century.
It was June’s birthday (today is also Shelli’s birthday), but Richard didn’t come along with his wife, probably because he doesn’t like Cliff. Today Cliff said he once lived with an airline stewardess, which is something I can’t picture.
It was a relatively mild day, and after the museum, we spent several hours in the Botanic Gardens, walking through the Japanese garden (about half the cherry trees have bloomed), sitting on the grass, talking about writing, gossiping, eating macaroons.
I enjoy June’s company, and Cliff’s as well, as I’ve become quite fond of them. June said she thought Gelber’s remark to me was “shockingly unprofessional.”
Through Alice, I’ve met many nice people. Brooklynites were out in their Easter finery in the Botanic Gardens, and it was relaxing to be there among friends.
All in all, life is a pretty nice thing to be in, and despite what happened on Friday I almost feel renewed after a week of vacation.