Saturday, April 22, 1978
8 PM. I feel good. Partly it’s Passover and partly it’s the luxury of a quiet Saturday night before me. But mostly it’s Ronna. She really makes me happy.
All week I’d been impatient for her arrival and yet also I felt apprehensive. But we get along so well. If I am, at times, “exasperating,” as Ronna says I am – and I know I am – she’s learned to accept it. And I’ve mostly learned to handle the little things about her that used to annoy me.
Four hours ago we were making love on this bed and it was . . . nice. (A weak word, perhaps, but I mean it very strongly). To me, her body with her round, soft stomach and her breasts and little brown dots is beautiful. She thinks my body is beautiful.
I like holding her, staring at her eye to eye on a pillow. I like the stubble under her arms and her sweat and the taste of her tongue, and though it embarrasses me to write this, I like the smell of her on my fingers when we are drinking tea in her kitchen after lovemaking.
Ronna was trying to explain to me how she doesn’t feel much passion – abandon, maybe? – except when she’s with me. Everything’s all right between us; there’s no commitment except our feelings, and as if to reassure me, Ronna said, “I’m not jealous, you know, of the young men who partake of your body while I’m typing away at my thesis.”
I just smiled.
It’s difficult to believe, but I think she understands me better than anyone else. We can say “You’re full of shit” to each other, mean it, and still be smiling.
I picked her up at 12:30 PM and we drove to Rockaway, where we walked along the boardwalk and beach. It was a bright day, a bit cool, and as we walked along, for the first time I didn’t feel embarrassed to heave my arm around someone else’s shoulder.
She looked great today, and I felt I looked good too, in my white Lacoste shirt with the little alligator. (“Alligators,” I joked, “wear shirts with little Jewish boys on them.”)
She’s having lunch on Tuesday with George Myers in Middletown; she’s a bit apprehensive, not knowing what I’ve told him about her. I worry that they’ll talk about me, too, but if so, so.
(See what a fatalist I’ve become? See? Hmm? Funny, that’s just the kind of thing Ronna would say; I can even hear her now, bless her.)
Ivan called Ronna on her birthday, and she seemed glad to hear from him. They didn’t move up the wedding after all, so he’s still getting married in August. Last weekend Susan visited her, and Ronna’s friends in Middletown threw her a birthday party.
We had lunch at the Foursome, sitting at the table next to one where we had our first date – 5½ years ago, when I was 21 and she 19. And we do make each other feel young.
She had a Western omelet. It’s hard for her to keep Passover now, but she tries not to eat bread.
Then, although she was embarrassed, we came home to my room and made love. For hours. She got a little frightened because she kept coming and coming. Do I sound banal writing this? We couldn’t stop kissing and holding each other.
Finally we went downstairs and said hello to Aunt Sydelle and Barbara and Scott, who were visiting. Then I took Ronna to her house, where we drank tea, talked, and kissed goodbye, and I dropped four of her books on Jewish womanhood in the Paerdegat library’s night-deposit box.
Ronna will spend tomorrow working on her thesis, and she leaves early Monday. But the next time she’ll be in New York, it will be for good (at least for a while). After she graduates, her mother will drive to Pennsylvania and bring back all Ronna’s things.
Tuesday, April 25, 1978
5 PM. Yesterday afternoon and evening were wonderful times that restored my faith in New York City. First Teresa called, inviting me to a birthday party that her friends are throwing at her apartment Saturday night; going there should be fun.
Then I drove into Manhattan and found a parking space on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street: a near-miracle. In Brentano’s, I found the O. Henry Prize Stories 1978: Woody Allen took first prize, and Tim O’Brien, Joyce Carol Oates and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer were represented. It depressed me that a number of my stories were overlooked. Am I mediocre? Often I think so.
At the Eighth Street Bookshop, I kissed Laurie hello. She said Mason had been in earlier and told her about having dinner with me.
Laurie got a “wonderful” note from the chairman of the English Department at the University of Kentucky; the job she applied for disappeared, but they told her, “You’re just the kind of person we’re looking for, so hurry up and get published already.”
She spoke to Peter about doing workshops at Brooklyn College; Jon is not going to return next year now that he’s got his Guggenheim money to play with. They’ll probably want to bring in someone famous, but if there are any leftover courses, Laurie will get them before I will.
Tomorrow I’m going to see Susan Schaeffer for her Buckle profile; maybe I can also talk to her and get some advice. It strikes me that being a college teacher is not the only worthwhile occupation for a writer. I’ve decided that if nothing else develops this summer, I’m going to get a job in a different field – what, I don’t know – and see how I enjoy it.
If I had a job as interesting as the one I had with the Fiction Collective, I’d probably get just as much satisfaction as I do from teaching. There just seems to be no future in academia, and the way things are going, I’m not certain I would want to stay in it anyway.
Certainly, the teachers at LIU seem to be fighting a losing battle; they’re demoralized by low salaries and low standards. Quality seems to mean nothing there.
Speaking of LIU teachers, Esther Hyneman and Seymour Kleinberg walked into the bookstore as I was talking to Laurie. And I saw Simon walk by: Greenwich Village sometimes makes New York feel like a small town.
At 6:30 PM, after failing to find Mason in Washington Square Park, I went up to visit Alice. She and her friend Debra, the new articles editor at Seventeen, were preparing salad and shrimp creole for dinner. We chatted while tussling with an obstreperous corkscrew on a wine bottle.
Alice took up the offer from Janice that I refused and went to see the Elvis impersonator last week. She said it was dreadful. (I had told Janice that I wouldn’t even have gone to see the real Elvis.)
Alice’s stomach rebelled after a Saturday night dinner in Chinatown with the girls from Seventeen, so she was unable to go to Julius Caesar on Sunday; Richard took the tickets from her.
Promising to see Alice again soon, I walked to the law school and found Mason and Mikey waiting for me. Cardozo Law School is modern and pleasant, and Mikey took us around before we had a fine dinner at Beefsteak Charlie’s next door.
Mason looks stable – Laurie said he told her, “I’m not crazy anymore” – and Mikey has lost weight. We joked a lot and tried to catch up on our news.
Davey, whom they saw on the beach in Rockaway on Sunday, works in New Jersey as a carpenter’s assistant. Carl Karpoff is getting rich selling real estate in Brooklyn Heights. Marty and Ruth are still in Syracuse, where they occasionally see Skip and his girl.
Mason was rejected from the University of Vermont grad school but hopes to go to New Paltz, as he likes living upstate and it seems to suit him. Mikey has a date this weekend and will work for the Attorney General this summer for $5 a day; he’ll probably work part-time at Gimbel’s, too.
We went back to Mikey’s apartment and watched TV till 10 PM; then I drove Mason to Rockaway, and I came home. I’m glad I haven’t lost touch with Mikey and Mason: the three of us are very different, but it’s nice to get together every once in a while.
Friday, April 28, 1978
9 PM. Why is this man smiling and not acting like self-destructive neurotic he was yesterday? Answers (in no apparent order):
Because it’s Friday night. Because today was sunny and mild and tomorrow is expected to be the same.
Because teaching went well today and gave him a sense of self-esteem.
Because Brian Robertson of Blue Alley accepted his satire, “Their Youthful Years.”
Because Contrast, an ugly little mimeo magazine at Western Maryland College, came out with his “Notes Toward a Story for Uncle Irving.”
Because the Brooklyn College Alumni Bulletin came out with his name in 10-point type over the Class Notes and contained this gem: “Ben Falkowitz, ’72, is the author of an article, ‘Jack Gelber and the Theater of Stupidity,’ published in the winter issue of The Drama Review.”
Because he had a nice dinner at the Roll ‘n’ Roaster and because the trees have all bloomed and because tomorrow night we turn the clocks ahead.
Because Ronna sent him a postcard featuring a photo of an Erie-Lackawanna 1153 and beginning with these words: “Dear Richie, Thank you for your hospitality.” (Hospitality? Only Ronna could write that – and I love her for it.)
Oh yes, and finally: Because he’s just written what he thinks is an excellent essay, “Diarrhea of a Writer,” an essay in which he attempts to sort out his literary ambitions versus his sense of inadequacy as a writer.
Words fail me – but they always fail me, and I always get over it and manage to write something. Even yesterday’s childish scribbling was pretty useful; it managed to liberate me and make me feel better.
Every night this week I’ve gone to bed with doubts about my talent, but this essay has temporarily resolved them. I realize now that without the doubts, I wouldn’t be able to progress as a writer.
If I were satisfied with my small press successes, there’d be nothing to strive for. So the struggling is not a bad thing for me. It hurts, but it’s only growing pains.
I felt a bit nauseated this morning but made it downtown anyway. Bruce Chadwick and I had a nice talk: as a CETA worker at the Brooklyn College Writing Center, he really isn’t supposed to be teaching at LIU.
Bruce says he saw my riverrun story in proofs: that embarrasses me. And Bruce mentioned that nice old Michael Murphy may just beat Jules Gelernt for chairman of the BC English Department.
Today I had two delightful classes that were sometimes frustrating but delightful nonetheless. God, I’m going to miss this term when it ends. Yet I still can’t help anticipating the end of the term: Isn’t that silly (for “silly,” read human) of me?
John Cozzarelli, the best writer in the pharmacy class, came to see me for half an hour. I like him a lot. He’s such a perfectionist that he wanted to make sure he had the bibliography form exactly right – I had to go to Dr. Farber to ask him about a fine point I didn’t understand – and then we got to talking about writing as a career.
Last term, Prof. Malley urged John to go into writing, as he felt John’s journal entries could go in the National Lampoon. I’m sure John is good, but I told him to stick out pharmacy school so that – in that deadly phrase – he’ll have “something to fall back on.”
John’s amazingly versatile in that he also has played drums in a band for six years and last year earned $2,000 as a magician. (His paper will be on escapology, and I’m sure it will be wonderful.)
All that plus a nice personality, good looks and probably money – he’s from the northern New Jersey suburbs – but still John made me feel like a teacher, as though I were someone who was actually doing students some good.
Saturday, April 29, 1978
2 PM. I feel nice. I just sat in the backyard in my shorts for half an hour in the sun. And I can see the beginnings of my summer ’78 tan. It was a long winter, but it’s over.
Even the stubborn London plane tree in front of our house has bloomed. My window is wide open. It’s 70°. Radios are playing and it’s almost like summer. About time, too.
Tomorrow it’s supposed to be blustery and chilly again, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow, eh? Tonight we lose an hour’s sleep and tomorrow it won’t get dark until 8 PM.
Last night I called Middletown and ran up my phone bill by talking with Ronna for twenty minutes. She’s doing well, but as I suspected, it’s unlikely that her thesis will be finished by the May 13 deadline.
I assured her that these things always drag on; Ronna says she’ll probably leave Penn State when it’s done and go back for August graduation. She’s decided not to go cross-country with Phil and Richie – and that makes me glad.
Her lunch with George was very pleasant, she reported. George is charming, very down-to-earth and unpretentious – and he was wearing a suit. He’s about six feet tall, lanky, and blond, with glasses and a prominent jaw: about how I pictured him.
They talked about folklore and Africa and me and had a good time. I hope George will be in New York this summer so I can meet him at last.
Ronna mentioned getting calls from Leroy and Elijah last Sunday. Leroy, who had phoned her sister, “sounds somewhat more subdued” and told Ronna that she doesn’t sound “cutesy” anymore.
Elijah called to ask if Ronna had heard the news of Rose’s death; he got it from Kenny, who’d spoken to Cara. Apparently it happened last November. Elijah is doing fine, working two jobs downtown – near where Melvin, Costas and Phyllis all work.
“Everyone is so impressed with Phyllis,” Elijah told Ronna. I guess Ms. Legal Eagle has a slight taste of power now and must hunger for more. Not that I’m interested, of course. (C’mon, Rich, admit it: you’re jealous of anyone who’s successful.)
Ah well, one day they’ll give me a party at Studio 54, too, and I’ll be on the Stanley Siegel show and get my photo on Page Six of the Post. (Fran Lebowitz says the nice thing about success is the vengeance factor: it really is a form of hostility.)
After writing last night’s essay, I feel very “up” on my work. This morning I thought of collecting all my personal and self-conscious fictions into a collection called – immodestly – Meet Richard Grayson.
Am I deluding myself or am I correct when I believe that such an idiosyncratic book just might make it in the commercial publishing world – like Fran Lebowitz’s much-praised Metropolitan Life.
I can even see the book jacket for Meet Richard Grayson: me in a tuxedo at the end of a receiving line with my hand extended to greet someone.
I’d start the book off with “Reflections on a Village Rosh Hashona 1969,” and include all of the stories in which I am the main character – from “This Way to the Egress” to “Go Not to Lethe Celebrates Its 27th Anniversary” to last night’s essay.
Oh well, it’s an idea.
David Vancil sent me another too-kind letter about the stories I sent him; it’s much too embarrassing for me to do more than glance at. (Maybe tomorrow. . .)
Tonight I’m going to have dinner with Teresa and some of her friends. The birthday party has been canceled, so we’ll probably just go out to eat and maybe to a movie.
Gary called, telling me that he hates his job at Merrill Lynch and is glad he didn’t get a permanent position there. He goes on interviews and still has hope. Gary and Betty must live the most boring lives of any young people in New York City.
Sunday, April 30, 1978
7 PM. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, the sun is still shining brightly through my window.
Today was a kind of lost-in-a-fog day; that lost hour is a bit discomfiting. I was out late, and when I awoke, it was past noon and I felt slightly tarnished and sinful.
In a groggy progression, I showered, breakfasted, read the Sunday papers, exercised, had lunch, marked themes, napped as a West German soccer game (Duisburg vs. Hamburg) droned on in the TV background.
Half an hour ago I went out to drive around the neighborhood, hoping to clear my head. There are birdies and trees and ice cream trucks although it is quite cool and blustery.
Tomorrow is May 1, and so far I am just a little tanned.
On Ralph Avenue I spotted a cute guy about 21 who stared at me not only as I passed him, but afterwards too when I saw him in the rear view mirror. He thought I was cute, too: I know it.
I could have gone back and stopped and said something dumb and probably we would have liked each other. But I didn’t go back, and that’s all right, too.
I had a terrific time at Teresa’s last night. We didn’t go out – my wallet is happy for that – but instead we ate in, having spaghetti carbonara and a delicious spinach quiche that Marilyn and her husband Larry made.
Marilyn looks well and has gotten thinner. (I recall that she once liked me and it was hinted that I should give her a call, but I didn’t want to because she’s not the world’s most interesting person.) Larry is a TV-sitcom’s idea of an accountant: three-piece suit, horn rimmed glasses, short hair, slight paunch, much given to talking about tax shelters.
I really liked the other couple, though: Pam, who worked with Teresa at the Wall Street Journal – she was there six years and just left for a better job – and her boyfriend James, a mail carrier.
Pam is Brooklyn Irish, very pretty and long-limbed, knows Nancy from St. Brendan’s, lives with her family in Bensonhurst, and has a local accent that is music to my ears (but she does not say “aksk” for ask). James is older, also from Bensonhurst, bearded, Italian, very nice.
We squeezed in for dinner (six at Teresa’s table wasn’t meant to be), and after Marilyn and Larry put away enough to feed the Los Angeles Rams for a week, they left for the Joffrey Ballet.
The four of us remaining there were feeling too drowsy and stuffed to go to the movies, so we had one of the best times: an unstructured evening of lazy talk, looking at old photos, gossiping, speaking about jobs and summer plans.
James and Pam are a fine couple: they’re so unpretentious and comfortable. I hope they liked me as much as I liked them.
Teresa’s probably going to quit the Journal. From the things she and Pam said, her office sounds like a terrible place to work. (Offices must be hell on the nerves since you’re cooped up with a collection of clashing personalities.)
Teresa doesn’t know what to do for the summer: take a house in Long Beach with Pam and James, go to Europe with Lance on money she borrows from him (his grandmother left him $2 million), or visit old friends in California.
She’s now alone, but she has more freedom than when she was with Don, whom she now despises, partly because he’s behind on his “alimony” checks to her.
Barbara and David’s wedding in Boca Raton was a farce: Barbara mad at Don for being the cause of Teresa’s absence, David ass-licking Don all the way because Don got him a job at $30,000 and he wants more; Don falling for Barbara’s 55-year-old aunt, with a scene ensuing on the wedding night when Don and Auntie wanted to use the couch in the condominium.
Teresa said the whole thing became a melee with Barbara’s family, and her brother-in-law finally took Don and the aunt to a Holiday Inn, so enraging Barbara’s mother that she’s vowing not to invite the aunt (her sister) to her other daughter’s wedding.
“It would make a great story,” Teresa said.
I left after Saturday Night Live. Outside, I found David, who mistook me for someone else, a neighbor from the building, and so he started going on and on about TelePrompTer Cable TV before I excused myself to find my car and drive home to Brooklyn.