Saturday, November 19, 1977
3 PM. I was supposed to meet Elihu, Elspeth, Elayne and a bunch of other people in Manhattan this morning to go see the new science fiction epic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, at the Ziegfeld.
But I couldn’t get out of bed and I decided that I didn’t feel like dragging myself onto the subway at that early hour. Perhaps it’s just as well.
Elihu is exultant after passing his orals, which he did on Thursday afternoon. It’s a great relief to him; he also had the pleasure during the orals of twice correcting Arthur Schlesinger. This week he begins teaching the history course at LIU, and I wished him good luck.
While I am grateful to have my paycheck at last, it came with the realization that the money won’t carry me for very long. I didn’t really expect to be paid for taking over Edelman’s class; they’ve got me over a barrel.
If anything does it, that fact convinces me that I’m not going to stay at LIU after this year. Indeed, if I find I can collect unemployment insurance in January, I may not even go back for the spring term.
Yesterday when I called up Seventeen to tell Alice all about the National Arts Club shindig, June told me that Alice had already left for Houston to cover the National Women’s Conference.
So I had the chance for a rare chat with June. I congratulated her on her job with The Trib. Her $15,000 salary there seems like a million to me.
Last night I went to Harvey’s place on Carroll Street. Laurie and Ron were there, as was Joel Agee, 36, a bearded, affable guy with long gray hair who’s sold stories to Harper’s (for $600 and $1,000); he’s the son of James Agee.
We didn’t do much in terms of a workshop, although Harvey read a very good memoir piece. A decade ago, Harvey – whose parents divorced early, and soon after his dad died and his mom remarried – left his East Village pad for Berkeley, where he became a campus fixture selling pretzels as he stood between the tables of the SDS and the Hare Krishnas.
Despite the sexual revolution, Harvey was still a virgin – the only one in Berkeley, he told himself. Dissatisfied with his life, he left town one day, hitching a ride to Big Sur.
At a campground there, he met a charismatic man named Charlie, whose entourage of women and sureness of purpose Harvey was incredibly impressed by. They spent several days together, and Charlie and his women treated Harvey so well that he was hoping to be asked to join their “family.”
But Harvey felt crushed when the group left for Southern California without asking him to come along. Only after the Tate-LaBianca murders did Harvey realize that Charlie was Charles Manson.
Later in the evening, Laurie told us about the usual havoc at the bookstore and at the Brooklyn College English Department.
Last week Jon and Georgia had Laurie to dinner to set her up with Jon’s middle brother Jimmy, a recently-divorced former drug freak who now works as a computer technician. It proved to be a clumsy, uncomfortable meeting.
I told Laurie about my strained relations with Jon Baumbach, and she wasn’t surprised; nobody really likes him very much, and they absolutely loathe Jack Gelber.
Our group is going to meet again in a couple of weeks as a workshop.
In the past two days, I had three stories accepted. Kevin Urick of The Mill and White Ewe Press, a friend of George Myers whom George said didn’t like my “name-dropping” when I met him at the Book Fair, accepted “A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama,” mainly because of its palindromic title.
Image, a St. Louis magazine, accepted “Who Art in Heaven,” the section of a longer piece dealing with my great-grandfathers. And Waters, a Cincinnati mag, is taking “Different Places,” a series of sketches.
I have to be close to 70 stories now; if only I had $10 for each one accepted, I’d be $700 richer. I hate to think in terms of money, but lately I can’t help it.
This afternoon we witnessed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s precedent-shattering arrival in Israel. He was greeted in Tel Aviv by Prime Minister Begin and other Israelis, who cheered him. It was very touching to see the Egyptians in Israel; maybe this will be the start on the long road to peace.
Thanksgiving is coming up this week, and I don’t know when I’ve so welcomed the start of the holiday season.
Sunday, November 20, 1977
8 PM. After calling in sick on Friday, tomorrow morning I have to teach, and I find myself feeling guilty about being absent.
Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t really sick, or maybe it’s just because it was the first time I did it. I remember how guilty I felt the first time I cut a class as a freshman.
But I feel that my relationship with my job at LIU has changed. The “relationship” analogy is very apt; it feels similar to the way it felt when my relationships with Shelli and Ronna were going sour.
I’m going through the motions of teaching, but the satisfaction just isn’t the same. And after having been “unfaithful” on Friday, I can never feel as I used to about my job.
I guess my dissatisfaction is healthy; it means I’m growing and I want to take risks. The nervous excitement I used to feel before teaching, the way I’d prepare the night before – all that is gone. I don’t think I can ever recover it: not as an adjunct at LIU, at any rate.
Last evening I had dinner with Alice. That’s right: she flew back from Houston yesterday, feeling totally disgusted with the Women’s Conference.
Her room at the Hyatt Regency wasn’t ready until seven hours after she arrived, and she was burned up at the sight of Bella Abzug, Melba Tolliver and Sally Quinn strutting around without any room problems of their own.
Like me, Alice has a very low shit tolerance, so after interviewing some kids at the Youth Conference, she took the first plane out of Houston, never mind whatever history might be made at the National Women’s Conference.
Alice is still job-hunting. She also told me that June has definitely decided to leave Richard now that she’ll be making more money at The Trib. After that Queens College student backed out, Alice ended up going to the Brooklyn Museum bash with Cliff, whom June persuaded to take her.
Now Alice is back answering ads in the Voice. I did, too, this week. Alice said it’s “an addiction.”
Last evening I wrote letters, applied to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, joined the Associated Writing Programs so I can avail myself of their placement service, and went to bed early. I had magnificent dreams which may go into a story I’m writing.
This morning I watched President Sadat address the Israeli Knesset. I thought that Prime Minister Begin should have offered more in return, but maybe that will come in private talks. If the Arabs recognize the rights of Israelis to exist within safe borders, Israel must do something vis-à-vis the Palestinian question.
I went to visit with Gary and Betty this afternoon, but first I went again to Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, where I finally located the graves of Grandma Sylvia’s parents, Harry and Hannah Cohen.
Arriving in Bayside early, I didn’t find Gary and Betty home, but they drove up soon with all the food they’d bought for the day. I made a big thing of admiring their living room/ dining room furniture; it was nice, and I knew that they were very proud of it.
All day the talk was of necklaces, changing oil filters, stoneware, computers and food. I watched Gary put Sani-Flush in their toilet. Last night they had dinner with new friends of Betty, a married couple who turned out to remember both Gary and me from Midwood, though neither of us remembers them.
Betty and Gary are still having in-law troubles: this week is Thanksgiving and they’ll probably offend Gary’s parents by having dinner at Betty’s parents’ house.
They told me that in Jersey, they got to know this rich and handsome 60-year-old man, Manuel Cortés, a direct descendant of the explorer and a retired IBM executive. He befriended them and tried to help Gary when he lost his job.
Cortés always made mention of what a sexy couple they were, and after they moved, he kept writing them. Gary and Betty showed me his last letter, in which he said that he wanted to have sex with them both! They shuddered at the thought.
Betty fixed a sumptuous dinner, including crêpes suzette for dessert; it was very good food indeed.
Thursday, November 24, 1977
10 PM. These are the times I’ll remember one day. I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday. It’s nice to be with your family and to be in a place you know is your home. The good food is a nice bonus, too.
I hate getting mawkish, but I have much to be thankful for. I’ve been in wonderful health and a pretty good frame of mind. The future looks promising and exciting. I’ve been very lucky in life, but of course one has to have that attitude.
(Oh God, this reminds me of the forty Candide papers on optimism and pessimism that I have to mark this weekend.)
This evening Dad called Grandma Sylvia, who cried bitterly, “What do I have to be thankful for?” Even in the best of times, she was never one to count her blessings, but now – with Grandpa Nat in the nursing home and she living alone – Grandma Sylvia has grown nearly insufferable.
She won’t leave Florida but complains that she’s alone there. And she works on the guilt of her children. Last night Dad put his finger on it when he was telling Aunt Sydelle that their mother doesn’t want Sydelle in Florida; she just wants to make Sydelle feel that she should be there with her.
I don’t envy Mom and Dad having to cope with Grandma Sylvia next week. Grandpa Nat has good days and bad days; the most they can expect of him is that he might be able to learn to walk again. I feel pain knowing how he is – we all do – but we’ve had time to get used to the idea, and we have.
I’d like to see Grandpa Nat, perhaps in January, but I don’t think I could stand living with Grandma Sylvia. Oh, enough of that.
I woke up at 10 AM and relaxed this morning. The sun came out, but only for an instant or two. This morning the bell rang, and it was a very cute guy who wanted Marc.
As I listened to them talking about this guy’s love of acting and the Theater Department at Kingsborough, I realized it was Jeffrey, Joe’s brother. We’ve lived on the same block for twenty years, but I haven’t seen him since he was a little kid, maybe 10 or 11. He turned into a nice-looking guy who I’m pretty certain is gay.
Later, I took a drive, and (purposely) passing Ronna’s grandfather’s house, I spotted him – Poppy Sam – and her cousin Robbie. I remember the Thanksgiving I spent with Ronna’s family four years ago.
All this made me feel so old. Well, I stopped to get Mom a pack of Now cigarettes: is there some symbolism in that?
We had dinner at 3 PM, just six of us: me and Jonny, Mom and Dad, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. (Marc went to Deanna’s, Marty’s family went to Arlyne’s sister’s house, and Aunt Sydelle went to Philadelphia to have dinner with Scott’s in-laws.)
There was Mom’s good food: turkey, meatballs, cranberry sauce, rice pilaf, chopped liver, sweet potatoes, cole slaw. Over the past several years Mom has become quite a good cook even if she still hates doing it.
At 5 PM, Alice came over and we went to Kings Plaza to see Heroes, a fairly diverting movie. Back at the house around 7:30 PM, we had tea and Grandma Ethel’s pastries and talked with my family. Grandpa Herb told some new stories from his repertoire, and Alice and my parents discussed Paris and Monte Carlo.
Upstairs later, I read a couple of stories for Alice. She liked my “Teen Idol” piece and suggested that since I’m so good at capturing the style of the fan magazines that I try to write for them the way Richard and Cliff do.
Richard makes $800 a month writing ridiculous pieces with misleading provocative titles that misrepresent the lives of celebrities. I told Alice, “Well, maybe I am ready to prostitute myself.” I’ve been so unhappy lately because of my lack of money.
I sort of hate the idea of writing trash like the stuff Richard churns out, but the money is so good. I really haven’t been able to produce much art lately, and writing for tabloids can’t be much worse than grading papers. Or is that just a rationalization?
In any case, I dropped off Alice at her house about an hour ago. I know this long weekend will slide by so fast, but at least I can enjoy tonight. I intend to have nice dreams tonight and sleep late tomorrow.
Friday, November 25, 1977
4 PM. I hate to say it, but I’m very bored. I even have a boredom headache. I’ve been watching soap operas and overeating and taking aimless drives.
Right now I’m a captive audience, because of thin walls, to the sound of Scotty Wagner’s trumpet. He’s attempting the theme from Star Wars at the moment – no, now he’s switched to “Jimmy Crack Corn.”
Actually, the kid is not bad, but when he hits a sour note, being in listening range can be horrific.
I have only ten more essays on optimism and pessimism to go, and to my delight, there were quite a few gems in the ones I’ve already marked – especially from the 11 AM class.
Now, as much as I sometimes dislike teaching at LIU, I’d be going absolutely bonkers if I didn’t have my classes to occupy myself. Leisure time was all right in the summer, when things are slow and I can sit out in the sun or swim in the pool and visit with friends.
But now it’s winter and the world is active again. Wait until January when intersession comes: last year I almost went out of my mind between the cold, snowy weather and having absolutely nothing to do.
We humans are very curious in that we always seem to dread experiencing the things we wait for with anticipation.
Last night I had one particularly sweet dream. Alice and I were at the movies, and this guy sitting next to me was being a pest. He was a male nurse, so I figured he was gay. I remember we smiled at each other with such wide eyes and joyful grins, and then the next moment, we kissed.
Nothing else happened, but that kiss meant a lot. That was one of the most positive dreams of homosexuality that I’ve ever had, and I’m glad. Oh, I think I’ve finally learned to deal with my gay feelings without that useless wrenching guilt.
When I look at boys in the street, I now look at them with pure (read: innocent, opposite of guilty) uncomplicated lust.
Yesterday Dad, in joking about how the family dinner got smaller with Marc at Deanna’s house, said it will be even smaller next year if Jonny gets a girlfriend.
“You’ve given up on Richard?” Mom said, and Dad smiled and said, “Yes.”
I’m sure that my parents wouldn’t be surprised if I told them I was gay. They might be dismayed, but they’d also be dismayed if I dated a black girl or drank a lot or smoked joints all the time.
On the TV show Soap on Tuesday night, a gay character attempted suicide after being told by his lover, a football player, that he (the football player) had to get married because he was “scared” of being found out.
The scene was not played for laughs, and the sympathy was obviously directed towards the gay guy. Harold Gould, TV’s version of everybody’s Jewish grandpa, then came on to tell the story of how he survived losing two beautiful wives – and this was equated with the homosexual relationship.
I was surprised to see in a Time magazine poll that more Americans disapprove of adultery than they do homosexual acts between consenting adults. Things are changing, and this climate has made it easier for me to deal with, and even revel in, my feelings.
Years ago, Dr. Lipton chastised me before the therapy group for saying, in his words, “Hooray, I’m a homosexual!” I can’t remember what I said back – perhaps nothing – but I hope I said something like, “Of course I’m not saying that; what I’m saying is, ‘Hooray, I’m me, and that includes all my feelings.’”
I’ll probably never be very active sexually, but in the days and months and years ahead, I do intend to enjoy my sexuality, probably until the day I die. More and more I believe that I will fall in love again –if I keep my eyes and ears and – groan, I can hardly write the next word, it’s so mushy – my heart open.
See, I ain’t doing that bad. Right? You betcha.
Tuesday, November 29, 1977
4 PM. I feel I’m on the edge of a precipice. I don’t know what gives me this feeling. It’s as if something is about to happen, something I have no way of foreseeing.
December arrives the day after tomorrow, and the last month of the year always makes me edgy. Edgy: that’s the word exactly. The artificial dates of the calendar have always meant a lot to me. And winter is coming: it snowed again this morning, before the temperatures changed it over to rain.
The winter, the end of the year, the days getting shorter: that all adds up to make me insecure. I’d feel a lot better if the sun were shining.
I finished the thirteen pages of “Anything But Sympathy” this morning, and I know it’s the best thing I’ve written in several weeks. Writing sustained narrative is so difficult for me that I think I’ll never be able to write a novel.
The other day when I called the Judsons’, Libby answered the phone and said, “Oh we were just talking about you and how sweet you are.” Me? Sweet? How could anyone get that impression?
Oh, I suppose I give off enough contradictory vibrations for people to think anything: that I’m a snob, an egoist, an apple-polisher, an innocent, a prig, a windbag, a regular guy, a manipulator, a good soul.
But the person I am keeps changing, and that is really the fun of going on with life. So why do I let myself be bothered by uncertainty? Why does my heart flutter and my stomach get skittish?
I know I’m a survivor, but then I keep thinking that I’ve never been tested. What would happen to me, say, if – God forbid – Mom and Dad were killed in a plane crash? How would I cope with things? How could I manage to go on with my life? Maybe what bothers me is that I feel insufficiently prepared for adulthood.
Of course the only cure for that is to plunge into things headlong – but I’ve never been a plunger. Has there ever been, in the history of mankind, a life as cautious as mine?
I want to take risks now, to do scary things just for the hell of it. I’d like to try to see if I can scare up that ole debbil anxiety once again. Conquering fear is the ultimate high.
Probably the men we think of as exceptionally brave – astronauts and combat soldiers and explorers – are really the most cowardly among us; they have to test their cowardice again and again. Does this make any sense?
What can I do to change the way I live, the way I write, the way I think, the way I look, the way I feel? The only sound I can hear is the ticking of the clock in my brothers’ bedroom. Time is speeding on relentlessly and I can’t keep pace with it.
Enough of this.
Why, asked Anatole Broyard in the Sunday Times Book Review, is anxiety the prevailing force in modern (experimental) fiction? It’s almost as if, to paraphrase Socrates, the unanxious life is not worth living. But Broyard gets cranky with most modern novelists for not rising above the level of anxiety.
In a way I agree with him. It isn’t enough to depict neurotic people acting strangely; one has to suggest, indirectly perhaps, some solution to the dilemma of anxiety. If I find myself sounding like John Gardner, well, what can I do?
God! How bad I am at philosophizing! I can never do anything but sound like a sophomore. Stick to your facts, Grayson, and to your feelings. Why do I have this damnable instinct to attempt an explanation for everything?
Maybe I just feel anxious because I feel anxious. It’s dark and rainy and foggy now, and for some reason, any reason, I feel like I’m living in Sherwood Forest. All I really need is to be with people and to do something useful.
Freud’s lieben und arbeiten? I guess so. Ah, the crisis of the urban neurotic intellectual in the final third of the twentieth century! (That’s me, buddy!)