Wednesday, December 14, 1977
7 PM. I’m feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time. In a little while I’m going over to Harvey’s; last night he invited me over, saying Joel Agee will be there.
Joel has received this fantastic offer from Harper’s: they’ll send him anywhere in the world, at their expense, and then they’ll pay him $2,500 for the article he writes about it.
Last night I slept well and had a fantastical dream that there was a Jewish star on the face of the moon. It was summer, and the moon was incredibly large and close, a huge greenish ball in in the black sky.
It feels almost like summer out. Actually, it’s 50° and pouring rain, but in mid-December that seems close enough.
Tomorrow I’m seeing Ronna. Dad and Mom wanted me to join them for dinner with Irv Littman and his niece, the doctor they’re trying to fix me up with, but I told them I can’t go along because I made a commitment to Ronna. Also, I need time to mark papers and prepare for Friday’s classes. I really should be working nonstop from now till tomorrow night, but I’ll give myself a break.
This morning I was at LIU by 9:15 AM. Margaret was already busy planning next Thursday’s fourth-floor Christmas party, and I volunteered to bring the soft drinks.
Richard Graziano, who’s incredibly dense, came to see me in my office about his term-paper topic. He wants to do it on why Joe Namath is so popular, and I let him. What am I to do with students like that?
I had a lively, if somewhat pointless, discussion of “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” in my 10 AM class, and at 11 AM, it felt like I was pulling teeth. Right after that class, I left to get home by 12:30 PM so I could watch Alex Scandalios, editor of Willmore City, win $1,000 on The Better Sex.
Last night I wrote a story, “Why Van Johnson Believes in ESP” – the title was suggested by an article in the National Enquirer – and this afternoon I switched around my fan magazine story, making it “Chief Justice Burger, Teen Idol.” I think the original focus on me was too egotistical and didn’t work.
In general, I’m trying to take my raving egomania out of my stories; in the end, it has little value.
Right now I can hear Scotty Wagner next door practicing his Haftorah with a record: “Baruch atah adonai . . . elohaynu me-elech ha-olehm.” It sounds so good to my ears, so comforting. There’s something about those Hebrew words that I associate with good memories, even if I didn’t really enjoy my own bar mitzvah preparation 14 years ago.
In the past week or so I’ve gotten nothing but rejections, but I don’t despair, as I feel more relaxed about my writing now. There are a couple of weeks left in 1977 and I intend to enjoy myself.
For the first time in my life, I want to get away from New York. I’m no longer so afraid of being in a strange city, away from everything I’ve ever known. I don’t think I’d mind living in Boston or Dallas or Washington or even Los Angeles.
If I had real guts, I’d head for Europe and join Avis and Helmut in Bremen. Gee – gee? – it’s nice to fantasize about being somewhere else.
Dad is yelling to Grandma Sylvia on the phone now; her hearing is so bad these days. She has stomach trouble and is upset because Grandpa Nat has been throwing himself and not reacting well.
Damn, but I feel curiously relaxed . . . I can’t even think of anything else to write . . . and it doesn’t bother me. Not much, anyway.
Thursday, December 15, 1977
9 PM. How to say it? As always, that is the problem. Last night I discussed that problem with Harvey and Todd and Joel Agee.
What is truth? (No one answered Pontius Pilate when he asked the question.) Is this truth, or is tomorrow truth or is what I felt a year ago truth? Joel says there are many truths and they are often in conflict.
Some truths: I feel harried. My limbs ache. I finally got the $200 check for my work on the Brooklyn College Literature and Publishing Conference. My car’s shocks seem to have gone. Today I saw Ronna.
We went to Greenwich Village and to Brooklyn Heights and to her house and mine. It hit 55° this afternoon. I feel unlike myself. Something somewhere is changing: this may be – it feels similar to – falling in love.
But that’s not a fact, really, is it? Okay, let’s drop facts. I love Ronna. I told her. “I love you,” I said, and then qualified it: “in my own peculiar way.” I don’t understand how I can feel this way. I’m not even sure I know how I feel.
After an hour of lovemaking, Ronna said, “I feel strange.”
“No, you don’t,” I told her.
“You’re right,” she said. “I feel good.”
Oh, it’s so nice to be intimate. I feel so free with her. We talked everything out, all the wonderings and misunderstandings over the years. Ronna’s gotten prettier and will no doubt be a knockout by 35. I like the look of her, the feel of her. I like holding her in my arms and lying next to her.
Of course this all sounds banal, and as we said last night in our writers’ group, when you describe something that’s really true and good, you have to backtrack and say something like “of course this all sounds banal”; otherwise the reader will think you’re a dolt.
Dear reader, the imaginary person reading these still-unformed lines, I am a dolt. You’d think I’d have a lot to write about Ronna and me, but I don’t. There’s little to say. It’s incredible how our feelings have not changed. I feel entirely at ease in her presence.
We drove to the Village, ate at Bagel Buffet, browsed in the Eighth Street Bookshop, talked and were silent, went over the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, bought Christmas cards, sat on a bench at the Promenade, smiled, drank orange tea and couldn’t keep our hands off each other.
Is that “love”? Five years ago I thought so, and I kind of feel the same way now. Are we fooling ourselves, just two lonely, frustrated people clutching at the past? Or is it a genuine warmth that’s remained over the years?
I don’t have to explain things to her. Our bodies seem to fit. Oh, I don’t want to analyze it or even write about it. It seems so ridiculous to write about it, as if I have to write about the sun shining all day or the earth revolving. We’re friends, and that’s good enough for me now.
Driving home, somewhere over Ocean Parkway, my car’s shocks went, and it’s now like riding on a roller coaster. Dad will drive me to work tomorrow. I have many papers to grade and a lesson to prepare and I’m exhausted and don’t want to do any work.
I dropped Ronna off at the Brooklyn College library, but I doubt if she’ll get much work done on her thesis there. When I came home and saw the check from CUNY for the Conference, I was amazed: by now, it’s like a bonus and a surprise.
Last night at Harvey’s was pleasant: good talk about writing. It was good to again see Todd, who brought a photo of his adorable little daughter. Todd told me Josh is now driving an oil truck for his cousin, and he thinks it’s a great experience for Josh.
At midnight I drove home from Park Slope in a deluge. All night my arms and legs ached, and they’ve started aching again.
Saturday, December 17, 1977
9 PM. I should have realized I was coming down with something on Wednesday night, when my limbs were aching so. This morning, I just couldn’t rouse myself: I felt incredibly fatigued, and after eating breakfast, I had to get out of bed.
Every exertion left me utterly drained, and by about noontime I realized that I have a cold or a virus or the flu. I have a very slight sore throat but no real physical distress except these body aches and this immobilizing exhaustion.
I managed to drag myself over to Kings Plaza to deposit money into my checking account and to buy vitamins to fight off the illness. It was dreadful to be in the mall a week before Christmas. The crowds of people looked so grotesque to me – I guess because I felt ill: I wanted to push them all down and run away.
I feel very misanthropic today, utterly empty (that’s the second time I used “utterly” in seven sentences); my creativity is at a low ebb and my energy level is that of a rock.
Alice called and said she’d been sick for the past ten days. She was out of work for a few days and she said that everyone at Seventeen has been ill. I declined her invitation to see Saturday Night Fever this evening, saying I expected to be running a Saturday night fever of my own.
Professionally, everything is going well for Alice: she has assignments from The Trib and US Magazine, and the model Veruschka (or some name like that) wants to do a book with her.
But Alice’s love life is miserable. Someone told her that if she and Andreas are going to live together, the only way it will happen is if they live in New Jersey and if Alice herself starts looking for a place for them.
Andreas has been cooperating, giving her the real estate sections of the local papers, but now Alice says she’d better think it through.
At this point she’s so disgusted with Andreas on several counts that living with him might prove disastrous. And that’s all apart from the fact that Alice doesn’t relish setting up housekeeping in Hoboken or Weehawken.
It annoyed me that when I told Alice about Ronna and me, she gushed and said, “Name the first girl after me!” After hanging up with her, I lay in bed and felt sick and more and more grouchy.
Alice is so into the slick world of Manhattan magazines and its horrible counterparts in TV, movies and publishing. Those things are just the reason why I’ve become anxious to leave New York.
I’m sick of hearing about city politics, Cuisinarts, science fiction movies, John Travolta, Steve Martin (a very untalented comedian who is now a superstar), Channel 13, Zabar’s, Bloomingdale’s, Annie, Sylvester Stallone, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Plato’s Retreat (one of the new “couples” places that has replaced the gay Continental Baths), New York Magazine, Bella Abzug, Hereford cows, the Betamax, cable TV, Studio 54 and all that shit.
Whatever happened to the 1960s? Everything has become so commercialized, and the young – instead of rebelling – are as sucked into the muck as their parents. Anyway, I’m working up a good head of steam here: I’ll probably end up as a vitriolic old reactionary misanthrope curmudgeon.
Last night Vito phoned from work at the Abbey-Victoria newsstand to ask where Glenwood Springs was; I didn’t have the slightest idea.
Today in the mail I received my great-great-grandmother Sylvia Shapiro’s death certificate. She died on December 10, 1931, when Mom was nine months old. She was a diabetic and in a nursing home, the Hebrew Home for the Aged.
When I called Grandma Ethel, my information jogged her memory and she recalled that her grandmother lived with her aunt Chaikah after her husband died, and one night there she got up without the power of speech, so they assumed she’d had a stroke.
As I suspected, Sylvia Shapiro’s father’s name was Israel Katz (my great-great-great-grandfather), but her mother’s maiden name was a revelation: Ethel Birnbaum (Katz). So Grandma Ethel and all the other Ethels in the family are named for Grandma’s great-grandmother.
Grandma Ethel said that Grandpa Herb is very sick with a bad cold and cough. I can empathize with him.
Monday, December 19, 1977
11 PM. My energy level zoomed into full gear today. I’ve just been marking term papers because I suspect I won’t have the desire to do it tomorrow.
And I enjoyed reading and commenting on three fairly intelligent papers on subjects that interest me: stress theory, homosexuality and physical fitness. I enjoy challenging my students intellectually and keeping them on their toes. To teach them to think sharply and clearly: that’s one of the most important things I can do.
Yesterday Alice phoned to ask me for suggestions for her journalism workshop at Brooklyn College today. Bruce Porter arranged for Alice to speak at SUBO during club hours, and she was pretty excited about it. I’m sure she did well. The only reason I didn’t attend her workshop myself was that Alice said it would make her nervous.
Later last night, I spoke to Ronna, who had spent the day at Susan’s, where they trimmed the Christmas tree. Ronna has several friends from out of town descending on her this week, so we won’t see each other.
But we’re closer now than we have been in years; we’re sure of each other, I can tell by the tone of our voices when we talk on the phone.
I slept very well and was glad to see that the snow had all melted during the night. At LIU, Dr. Farber told me that Elihu had to sign a loyalty oath with his adjunct teaching contract and asked me if I had to do the same; no, I said, it was news to me. Maybe the administration thinks only history teachers are subversives?
Margaret is excitedly awaiting the Christmas party; it’s a big deal for her and some of the other people who work on our floor.
I read a story by Borges to the 10 AM class and they seemed to enjoy it. At 11 AM, I read another story, this one from Story Quarterly, which got a very good reaction. Several of my students gave me Christmas cards, and that made me feel good.
I got home by 12:30 PM, just in time to give our mailman a holiday gift of $10; he really deserves it, what with all the manuscripts and books and magazines he lugs to our door. Today he brought only rejections, but I didn’t mind that much.
After having lunch at the Floridian, I withdrew more money from the bank. I’ve got a feeling that the extra $200 will be gone in no time.
Back home, I wrote a short piece about Sylvia Shapiro, “My Great-Great-Grandmother Story”; it’s okay, I guess. Lately the fiction I’ve been writing isn’t very exciting, but who knows? A good story may pop out any day now.
Late this afternoon I went to BC. After xeroxing my stories, I looked in the library for Ronna. I didn’t find her, but I did run into Fred, who said he’s finally graduating in January, and after that, he’ll go on a hiking tour. It was nice to see Fred again after several years.
I felt restless after dinner at home and drove into Manhattan. I really wanted to get the new issue of Zone with my story in it, but it wasn’t at the Eighth Street Bookshop. Laurie did give me a discount on two other books I bought.
She told me to come to Jon’s party next week, but I wouldn’t want to go because it would make me uncomfortable. I suppose I should thank Jon for straightening out the salary thing, but I think I’ll just send him a Christmas card.
Back in Brooklyn, I went to see Saturday Night Fever at Georgetown. Prof. Fried, my old biology teacher, was on line next to me, and we shook hands warmly. The film disappointed me: it seemed so formulaic.
Still, John Travolta is exciting to watch and the dancing and music were great and it was good to see on screen the Italian Brooklyn ambience that I’m so familiar with.
Half the people in the theater could have fit right into the picture. There were also good scenes of the Verrazano Bridge, whose beauty and strength I’ve always felt were overlooked in the popular mind.
The Golden Gate and the Brooklyn Bridge always seem to overshadow the Verrazano. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t lead to a romantic, exciting place like the towers of lower Manhattan or the hills of San Francisco.
When I got home from the movies, I helped Dad fill out a Medicaid request form for Grandpa Nat. Dad told me that today his mother called the doctor to tell him to start giving Grandpa Nat solid food, and the doctor said he couldn’t do that because Grandpa Nat keeps taking out his teeth.
She then told the doctor that maybe he would improve if she could take him home. “Look, he’s not going to get better,” the doctor told her. “He’s only going to get worse.”
That was all he had to say, and Grandma Sylvia was crying the whole afternoon. The other day she hung up on Aunt Sydelle after calmly saying, “You have no mother.”
I’m too tired now to make any sense.
Thursday, December 22, 1977
9 PM. Last evening, from the bay window in Harvey’s Park Slope apartment, we saw the most beautiful sunset on the day when the sun sets earlier than any other day of the year. I hope I can avoid the winter blues this year; at least I’m going to try.
This morning I took my car in to be fixed, so I had to rely on subways and buses today. Apart from the price and the crowds and the filth, public transportation isn’t really that bad.
I got Christmas cards from two Bread Loaf people, David Baker and Karla Hammond, as well as from Bill Henehan, an editor at Back Bay View; I couldn’t understand why Bill sent me a card, but I guess he’s just a really nice person.
Or does he, like Karla, mistakenly think that because my name is getting around the small press scene, that I can do something for him in the future? The reason I think that is because it is the kind of calculating thing I myself would do.
Apparently everyone in New York saw my anagram in the Village Voice; hardly a day goes by when somebody doesn’t ask if I am “that” Richard Grayson. Today it was Abe Goldstein, who, like most people, didn’t understand it.
Also, little by little, my stories are beginning to get noticed. At today’s English Department Christmas party, Terry Malley asked me: “Are you the Richard Grayson who’s had fifty short stories published?” Somehow he’d gotten hold of the Westbere Review and saw my story and the inevitable contributor’s note.
And someone else, though I can’t recall who, also saw that story. Oh yeah, it was Ken Bernard, who said he also liked my piece in Confrontation.
Ken is a fiction writer in addition to being a playwright – he’s got a story coming out in Iowa Review, a place I’ve never been able to crack – and even Terry’s got a novel he’s just finished although he says he’s “too lazy to send it around.”
But I know I’m a better writer than either of them. Looking around at the LIU English Department – the tenured professors, I mean, not us lowly adjuncts – I am not awed in the least by their talent.
Dr. Farber is a brilliant man, true, and George Economou is very sharp. Seymour Kleinberg is excellent in his field; Terry Malley’s a wonderfully real human being and a fine teacher; Martin Tucker is solid and a hard worker.
But I’m not out of their league. Certainly there are some tenured mediocrities like Esther Hinz – whom I heard say, “I’m here by accident, you know; I really belong at some place like Harvard” – and let’s face it, none of these people, not even George and Ken, have set the world on fire as creative writers.
Maybe the advantages of a safe, secure professorship have made them go soft. Or maybe they’ve reached the age where the hunger of ambition has gone away.
But Terry’s poetry is not very good, and I remember all the crappy novels English professors used to submit to the Fiction Collective. Terry’s novel will probably remain in his room for years.
He did tell me, when I mentioned the Collective, that it has to leave Brooklyn College and may come to LIU. His friend Hal Jaffe of LIU’s Southampton campus wrote him that. The Collective accepted Jaffe’s book for 1979, but they may not have the funds to do it.
Speaking of the Fiction Collective, I can’t look up to their authors the way I used to, either. I admire Sukenick’s writing the most, but also the work of Baumbach, Spielberg, Katz and Bumpus.
But Mimi Albert, B.H. Friedman and Seymour Simckes are all less talented than I am even at my early stage of publishing.
Anyhow, the party was kind of dull. I spent most of my time with a drunken Margaret, a nudzhy Rose Aronson, and a slightly tipsy Pearl Hochstadt.
Along with Terry Malley, an old student of Terry’s named Patrick who is about my age, and Ken Bernard’s 18-year-old son Judd, these were the people I really enjoyed talking to – because they seem unpretentious and “real.”