Tuesday, April 12, 1977
The last day of my vacation turned out to be the very nicest of all. It’s 90° now and it’s been hot and sunny all day. I got into my new shorts and was out in the sun by 10:30 AM, and it felt wonderful.
See, Mother Nature did not let me down. On the 102nd day of the year, it hit 90° and I could lie on the beach in Neponsit. Could anything be more peaceful than me lying in my yellow-and-white towel in the sand, feeling the sun on naked skin, listening to the rush of the ocean, watching children playing and people flying kites and tossing frisbees?
I smiled at the old ladies and looked at a book on linguistics. This is nice. The long winter is finally over, and from now on I’m going to be sunburned and wear shorts and show off my muscles and suck in my paunch and feel as sexy as I please.
I am glad the Conference business is over; without Jack Gelber’s crude remark, today wouldn’t have been possible because I would have been working in the office, feeling miserable and stressed out. I feel free, so free.
I look forward to going back to LIU tomorrow. I don’t mind teaching; it was the Conference that was hanging over my head all these weeks.
The trees are starting to get green and leafy, I’ve got the air conditioner on, and last night was the first sighting of the Good Humor man on his white truck.
Last night I slept long and lazily, dreaming of a drive into Cincinnati, a wonderful drive going from Cleveland through the Panama Canal. I stopped at a weird hotel with slanted floors. It was the nicest dream-trip I’ve ever taken.
I don’t feel the least bit guilty for “throwing away” today. There are times when we should just relax and not worry about being a productive member of society.
I feel hopeful that new things may be on the horizon, new vistas, new challenges. I really want to get involved in agoraphobia therapy. It’s something I strongly believe in, and it’s not involved with ambition or politics.
I’ve been worrying too much about getting ahead as a writer. I’ve been too calculating: everything I’ve done has been self-serving. I want to change into someone new, a thin and handsome and sexy and magical person. I want to soar above Brooklyn. I want to get in the midst of crowds and shout, “Hey! It’s me!” I want, I want, I want . . .
Let me be able to eat all the coffee ice cream in the world and never get fat. Let me be able to snap my fingers and be in Paris or Hong Kong and be back just as quickly. Let me reach someone and hug someone and yell and scream and fight and love. Oh, I’d love to love again: male, female, orangutan, whatever.
Obviously I’ve got a terrible case of summer-in-spring fever. Yay! Yay! Yay! I feel childish but I don’t feel foolish. If I knew ballet, I’d do it. Or I feel like growling like Tony Tiger. I’d like to try everything today.
All this is just a lexical flight of fancy. Without words, I’d be forever earthbound, leaden, dumb. (Remind me to look up the etymology of the word stupid to see if it fits me at all.)
Elihu sent me a postcard from London: the Parliament and Westminster Bridge. “Ah,” Elihu writes, “the marvelous characters you could study here. They’re not very efficient but so courteous and polite that it doesn’t matter. Just relaxing and wandering about; will see four shows and countless miles of streets. – Elihu.” A nice card.
I wish Caaron would write me, and Ronna too. I made Ronna a birthday card on construction paper; it’s a cutesy thing I signed “Smiley Grayson IV.”
Why is it every spring I fall in love – and usually with the same person? For some unfathomable reason I’m smiling now, and I suppose it is a smile one could call “stupid.” So hats off to that has-been playwright who called me that. If this is stupidity, sir, play on, play on . . .
Wednesday, April 13, 1977
8 PM. It hit 86° today, and this afternoon I spent another ninety minutes in the sun. The trees have bloomed instantly, or so it appears.
I’ve just come from Kings Plaza, where I took out some money from the bank, discovered that the two copies of Statements 2 at Waldenbooks had been sold, and did other errands. When I bought vitamin C at the health food store, the girl at the cash register said to me, “You didn’t get that tan just now, did you?”
Slightly abashed, I said, “No, I’ve just come back from Florida.” At CVS, I got some Sun-In, but after trying it once, I’m throwing the bottle away. I wanted to know what it felt like just to put in my hair again.
I’m still not certain why I wanted to be blond seven summers ago, but I don’t want to be blond anymore.
Last evening Alice came over on her bicycle, bringing me a book of Gore Vidal’s essays that had come into the office.
Alice asked me if I wanted to try writing an article for Seventeen. Annette Grant wants Alice to find someone to write a short quiz, in Seventeen style, on the energy crisis and how it relates to teenagers.
Of course, since I don’t read Seventeen, I’ll have to find out what the magazine is up to, stylistically. Alice said she’ll send me the booklet and give me the number of the PR lady from the energy-conservation agency, the one who’s bugging Annette to do the article.
It needs to be only about 600 words. And if by some chance it’s accepted, they’ll pay me $200: to my mind, an incredible sum.
Alice also said I could send her all my stories and she could xerox them in the office, but that sounds like a terrible imposition. Of course, my xeroxing bills do add up.
Last night I slept fitfully and was awake this morning long before I had to be. At LIU, I greeted Margaret, Abe, Devra, Beverly and the others, but I didn’t particularly feel like engaging in sprightly conversation.
Malcolm Jefferson, who’s been absent from my English 10 class a dozen times, came to me to try to get himself reinstated in the course. He took me to his counselor, Barbara Pasternack of HEOP, who said that he missed classes due to illness in his family and appointments with the Department of Social Services.
Privately she told me that Malcolm is an ex-drug addict with five children. A softie, I told her to do whatever she could about getting him back into class.
I taught a short if not particularly sweet lecture on adjectives in English 10; about half the class seemed to be missing. After lunch at Junior’s, in English 12, I met privately with students to discuss the topics for their term papers; I’ll do the same thing on Friday.
Outside, on LIU’s concrete campus, the students were sunning themselves just like we used to at BC as undergrads; at times I wish I were one of them again.
Back home, Marc gave me an urgent message from Harvey, but I didn’t answer it. Maybe I’ll give him a call tonight. At this point, I hope the Conference is a big flop; I don’t want to inconvenience Harvey, but Baumbach and Gelber can go screw themselves for all I care.
Much as I had hoped to avoid speaking to Jon, I’m very surprised he never called again. I wonder if he’s embarrassed or furious: probably he’s a little bit of both.
Mom says if I don’t get paid for the work I did, I should sue them in Small Claims Court. I probably will.
I guess Jon realizes that the Fiction Collective lost its manuscript coordinator; that job isn’t really necessary, as only one book is needed to complete what I assume will be the final series next fall.
I’ll miss getting all the news and reviews in the office, but after Gloria leaves, it won’t be the same anyway. For all practical purposes, the Fiction Collective is dead.
Thursday, April 14, 1977
5 PM. Harvey finally got through to me this afternoon. He asked me for some information and told me that Les Von Losberg was taking my place as Conference coordinator, and that I should get a voucher for $200 to Clay in the Grants office.
Jon gave Harvey the message that “there are no hard feelings” on his part. Jon says that if I want to continue to work for the Fiction Collective, he’ll be happy; if not, that’s all right, too.
So – the thing is finally over at last. (There’s a redundancy there.)
Last night I had a hard time getting to sleep, wondering if I had really failed. I suppose I will always have doubts about my ability to perform under pressure, but I don’t believe I “folded in” on this.
I could have handled these last few weeks of the Conference stuff; it was Jack and Jon who made my position untenable. I felt so angry with Jon that I wrote a sarcastic story about him this morning.
Too much spleen went into the story, titled “Innovations,” and therefore it probably isn’t very good. But I told Harvey there are no hard feelings on my part – not against Jon, at any rate. Against Jack, yes.
I feel I’m being talked about at Brooklyn College – as though I’d made a mess of things and someone has to step in and fix it up after me. I don’t like that feeling, and it stems from not being my own boss.
I don’t take orders well, and in the future I’m going to do things on my own. Maybe I am a little defeated now, but it’s a good lesson to learn. I thought I’d go from one success to another.
Failure is the best teacher of all, if one is open to its pedagogy. I have failed: there, that wasn’t so hard. Now I can concentrate on other things. I’ll spring back.
Josh was here an hour ago, telling me he’s up for a job at WNET, as an assistant to the business manager of The McNeil-Lehrer Report. Now that I’ve “loused up my social climbing,” as Josh put it, he’s around me again.
I’m fond of Josh, but I don’t want to get sucked in to his mishigass. Of course knowing how Josh feels about Baumbach and Gelber makes it easy for me to give into the temptation of sharing Josh’s disdain and enmity.
Last night Gary called, sounding optimistic about the interviews he’s been going on. Although I suppose he’s a bit too optimistic, at this stage it’s probably for the best.
Gary was duly sympathetic and angry for me when I told him about my own situation; he’s always been an extremely loyal friend.
The best I felt today was when I took a drive out to Glen Cove, to the nature preserve at Garvies Point. I didn’t been there since last fall, and going back was a kind of ritualized affirmation.
Eating some seeds and nuts and raisin cake and an apple tart I got at a health food store in town, I sat by myself at the picnic tables, then walked along the muddy shore, stepping over water-glazed stones, and looked out at the gurgling blue waters of Hempstead Harbor.
That place is a good place to think, a good place to be by myself. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to get through this and worse things. If I ever get to the other side, I’ll probably feel as though all of life has been a wonderful experience: just getting through is good enough for me.
Even if I’m murdered – it’s incredible to imagine myself capable of being murdered – I think I’d even enjoy that in the end, at least at that moment when I could reflect on my murder at some heavenly Garvies Point.
As I was walking the length of the beach, I could see erosion’s handiwork on the cliffs, the tree roots sticking out, the big boulders, the sandy clay. At some point my life will be craggy and sandy and all my roots will be sticking out, too. And that’s all right.
Sunday, April 17, 1977
3 PM. Every Sunday when I read the papers, and especially the Times Book Review, I wonder if I’m in the right business. There are so many better writers than I. I can’t create real worlds in fiction, and so I have joined the “innovative,” non-representational school.
I made fun of innovative fiction (and Jon Baumbach) in the story I wrote on Thursday. Reading Gore Vidal’s criticism of the French “new novel” and its American counterparts, I see that there is more to it than I had previously thought.
I myself love novelists like Vidal and Bellow and Mailer, who accept all the conventions of 19th century fiction. Anyway, I have to face the fact that I’m not really suited to being a fiction writer any more than I am to being a poet or a sanitation worker.
My stories are barely stories, pastiches, fragments, autobiography, confession, observation, tricks . . . What I really am is an essayist masquerading as a fiction writer.
I think I should go back and try some more realistic stories, like “On the Boardwalk,” which is essentially a portrait of my grandparents and Uncle Morris.
Surely there is enough around me to make up subject matter for stories: Dad’s importing jeans from Hong Kong, Mom’s dollhouses, Marc’s dope dealing and living off unemployment, Jonny’s obsessive weight-lifting and observance of the Sabbath.
When I go out in the streets of my neighborhood, it appears that among guys my age, there’s always a Sylvester Stallone lookalike contest in progress.
Farrah Fawcett-Majors and the Fonz stare out at me from their posters in store windows. On the news, the announcer says, “. . . and in the disaster, scores were injured. Speaking of scores, here’s Sam with the sports . . .”
Agribusiness, petrodollars, Starsky and Hutch. The Rev. Schuller on an evangelical TV show with Charles Colson, Eldridge Cleaver and June Carter Stapleton.
Coors Beer, the Cuisinart, the Betamax, mopeds. Eating only liquid amino acids. Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. Dwindling city services. Terrorists everywhere. Old people being mugged right and left by kids who laugh at prison.
Look at all this. What Tolstoy could have done with this had he been living in New York City right now. Even Trollope or Galsworthy would have accounted themselves well. But I don’t seem to be able to do it.
I don’t seem to fit in anywhere in society. I don’t wear three-piece suits. I’m not really an academic. I’m family-oriented but I don’t have a family of my own. I’m not an artiste who lives in Park Slope. I’m not a Jewish-American prince on Long Island. I’m not a Morningside Heights gay guy or a Bay Ridge conservative. My voice is atypical. Oh, enough of this . . .
Last evening I spent hours mailing out stories and even my third-rate poems. If I didn’t have to do it, I certainly wouldn’t – but it’s a compulsion now and I can’t not do it. In some sense it was a productive evening, but I felt the need of company.
This morning when I went out to mail the submissions, I ran into Hal walking his dogs on Flatbush Avenue. He’s still happily “putting people behind bars.” (I listed him in the Class Notes this issue.)
Hal said he and Ivy are going to London for two weeks this summer. Next year they want to go out West, for they have plans to move out there eventually.
Hal’s father, Morty, went broke as a milliner in the garment business and is now trying to do something else, like Dad. The American worker, we agreed, priced himself out of the market.
Hal told me he’s thinking of getting involved in politics again. This year, Mario Cuomo seems the Great White Hope for mayor.
A few blocks down, I ran into Larry Levinson, who loves to walk. Larry works in the mortgage loan division of the Greenpoint Savings Bank and still lives in Canarsie.
Larry said that last week, on one of his long walks, he met Karen and Maddy on their way to see Maddy’s grandmother. Larry also told me that Henry sent him an invitation to a going-away party today for Craig, who’s moving to Washington, and that Ira and his wife are moving upstate.
Monday, April 18, 1977
Yesterday was a day for running into people from the past. Not only did I see Hal and Larry, but in the late afternoon, I encountered Ivan in Rockaway. I caught sight of him in my rear-view mirror: he was bicycling with a lovely blonde girl.
He biked over to the side of my car. Ivan looked older – I mean significantly older. When he was 16, Ivan looked 25, and now that he’s 23, he looks like 30.
Ivan is still very handsome but in a kind of craggy, rugged way now. His mustache looks old and the hair on his chest is so thick it was sticking out the top of his polo shirt.
When I asked him what he was doing, he said, “Riding a bike.” And then: “Would you believe I’m working for my father? I’m running his computers. . . And you?”
“Oh, still teaching, still writing.”
I told him the last I heard about him was from Shelli when she called me in January. “Yeah,” Ivan said, “she called me on her last day in town.”
So he was hurt, and that’s why he “put up a wall” with Shelli that night.
“Yeah, well,” I said, “she called you before she called me.” (I might have added that she was only returning my call.) Then I volunteered: “Ronna was in a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yeah, I know, she called me.” (Again, before she called me – and by her own admission, Ronna called me only because I had asked her sister to tell her to do so.)
Ivan laughed and said, “Naturally I missed her birthday this week.” (I smiled and thought: Naturally, I didn’t miss it.)
Then I showed Ivan a copy of Statements 2, something I immediately regretted. (What do I have to prove to him?) But he was gracious, saying, “Congratulations on another publishment [sic] .” And I told him to be good and to have a nice summer and we went our separate ways.
It was strange seeing Ivan. He’s so much a part of my past, and for so long I was obsessed with him, jealous of him. I guess he’s not even going with Vicky anymore; even that is in the past.
So much has happened, yet it still hurts to know that both Shelli and Ronna prefer Ivan to me. Is it because I’m not as nice as he is? I’ll never understand what I did to Ronna that she wanted to cut me out of her life.
And as each day passes without word from her, after I sent her a birthday card, an invite to the Conference (she had asked me to send one), and my stories, I wonder if she will indeed write back.
Does she think of me the way Avis thinks of Scott, and am I, like Scott, just too dumb to see how much she dislikes (or despises) me?
Yesterday I saw two other guys Ronna also went out with and I heard about a third. I suppose it’s true: Hal, Henry and Ivan are all better men than I am. I don’t dispute that.
I don’t have Hal’s basic kindness or Henry’s good nature or Ivan’s gentlemanly charm. I can be petty, manipulative, spiteful, and dishonest in ways I don’t think any of the others can be. How did I get this way? I think of the line at the end of Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”: “I was a nice girl once, wasn’t I?”
I became so wrapped up in this thought that I came home and wrote a very short story about it, called “Infant Sorrow.”
Last evening Alice called, telling me of her very pleasant evening with her latest beau, Matthew, who’s a perfect gentleman, good company, humorous, sensitive and “very good in bed.”
But Alice is proceeding cautiously and doesn’t want to get emotionally involved (though of course she does want to be sexually involved). Things are going well between her and Andreas now, and she doesn’t want to spoil that.
I had a terrific night’s sleep, taught adjective clauses in English 10, gave my test on Gatsby in English 12 (in the short answers, someone identified “East Egg” as “the opposite of West Egg”), came home and tried to lie in the sun, but it was a wee bit too cool.
So I went to the library and looked at Writer’s Market and then sent out submissions to eleven magazines I’d never heard of before.
Friday, April 22, 1977
5 PM. The U.S. Postal Service can either throw me into a foul mood or make me ecstatic. Today I received three – count ‘em – three copies of magazines containing stories by one Richard Grayson.
And they are all exquisite-looking magazines, beautifully bound with neat graphics. Writ #8 contained “The Finest Joe Colletti Story Ever Written (So Far)”; Syzygy #6 included my friend Zodie Yakker in “Where the Glacier Stopped”; and The Nantucket Review #8 had “Early Warnings,” the autobiographical piece about my childhood.
It made me feel so good to see my work in print, in magazines. Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I wrote “Four Fatal Fictions,” which I believe is one of the strongest pieces I have ever written. Mostly it was an updating and reworking of earlier material, but it seemed to jell better yesterday.
I can now claim 25 published stories, one for every year of my life, and from now on, I intend to have more stories than I have years. I don’t think I’m third-rate at all.
Dad said he’d be willing to lend me the money for the projected book of my stories that Harvey wants to do. I’m beginning to get quite excited about it.
I decided not to go ahead with the Seventeen piece; although Alice was disappointed, I think for now I should stick to writing the things I know best. I don’t feel like extending myself so soon after the Conference fiasco.
Yesterday I phoned Libby. She’s nervous, of course, about facing surgery, but she’s trying to keep her spirits up. If the cyst has damaged her ovaries, she may have to have a partial hysterectomy.
There’ll be a relatively long recuperation period, and I’ll try to look in more on Libby from now on. She and Mason seem to be going on their merry if unstable way, and Wayne is still with Angelina after all these years.
Yesterday was hot, but in the morning I decided to make a trek out to Beth David Cemetery in Elmont. After some help in the office, I was able to find the graves of four of my great-grandparents: Dad’s grandparents, people I’d never known.
Harry and Hannah Cohen share a headstone (Harry died six months after my parents’ wedding). I wrote down the Hebrew inscription because they give their father’s names, Yitzhak (Cohen) and David (whatever Hannah’s maiden name was).
It was a very long walk to the graves of Grandpa Nat’s family in the Lenyin and Lachver Benevolent Association plots. Rabbits were scampering over the grounds, and it smelled like the woods.
I found my great-grandfather Jacob Ginsberg (who was an orphan, as Grandpa Nat said) and his wife Frieda (whose father’s name was Yitzhak), along with Grandpa Nat’s siblings – Ike, Sura and Bessie and their spouses – and various Slutsky cousins there, too.
Now I can send away for some death certificates – when I get the money, that is. Money is a real problem these days; I’m terribly strapped for cash.
Today at LIU I learned that we’re all going to be observed before the term ends, and that makes me slightly uneasy; I have this terrible feeling that I’m going to get that bitch Esther Hyneman. This morning I taught footnotes, not the most exciting subject in the world.
In an hour I’m going to pick up Alice at the Junction; we’re going to the movies tonight. Alice has been officially named editor of Mini-Mag and her salary will now be $200 a week.
But she’s upset because all of a sudden June has decided to go after the Mini-Mag associate editor’s job. At first Alice was all for it, but now she’s afraid it would be a terrible strain on their friendship if June worked for her.
Alice insulted Hilary by not going to her country home for the weekend. Alice claims Hilary is stealing all her friends. She had Cliff over for dinner last week; he didn’t pounce on Hilary, and so now Hilary thinks something’s the matter with him.
Next Monday is my turn to go over there for dinner, though I’ve got a hunch Hilary is not after me for herself but for her neurotic roommate Isadora.