A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1978

bar mitzvah boy

Saturday, May 13, 1978

10 PM. What a pleasant day, although nothing really happened and the weather wasn’t the greatest. But I’m enjoying myself and I feel content.

Last night I cleaned out my work-closet, discarding a Hefty bag full of junk. I came across “A Disjointed Fiction,” which George is going to print in X #4 and I was surprised at how well it stood up; I’d forgotten most of the story, and it made me laugh.

Nice dreams last night: they got incredibly complex as the night wore on and it took a great effort to tear myself from them this morning.

Apparently – according to Joe Leone’s term paper – while we are dreaming, the brain secretes a certain chemical that is used up every day; there’s a mechanism that keeps the chemical away while we’re awake. And now, scientists believe that the events that take place in dreams occur in the same period of time they would happen in if we were awake.

ave j and coney island aveMy most vivid dream was of having my own apartment on Avenue J and Coney Island Avenue. See, I really do want my own place. In the dream, Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia had left me the apartment.

In real life, when Grandma Sylvia told Grandpa Nat about the Mother’s Day card I sent her, he said, “It’s a pity we have to live alone.”

I wrote a story this morning, half-based on another term paper, Robin Boykoff’s debunking the myth of Abraham Lincoln. Called “Lincoln on the Couch,” the story presents Lincoln through the eyes of his wife, stepmother, and rival Stephen Douglas, portraying Honest Abe as a lazy slob. Well, it’s different, anyway.

After I got a note from Jerry Klinkowitz saying not to despair, “Innovations” will be in the next issue of Seems, I went off to the Junction to xerox my new story and my CAPS-application manuscript.

I can’t believe I actually got the application off today; I must be the first one to apply this year. Now I can forget about it for nine months – and if I learn next February that I’ve got the grant, I’ll be pleasantly flabbergasted. Flabbergasted: wouldn’t that make a great title?

I think I might have an idea for the cover of my little book: How about putting one of those multi-lined Universal Product Code symbols on it?

UPCA lot of my work makes fun of the mindlessness of our consumer culture, and the UPC, now appearing on everything from tunafish cans to newsmagazines, represents the consumer culture better than anything else I know.

More and more, I feel I’d like to put new pieces into the book, but I’ll see what George says.

His friend and mine, Ms. Ronna Caplan, finally got me in this afternoon; since Thursday we’d had three missed connections. Ronna must love me: we talked long-distance for nearly an hour.

She’s finished her thesis, but her second reader wanted her to revise her last chapter after she reads Cahan’s Rise of David Levinsky and Roth’s Call It Sleep, so she is. (I read those books seven years ago in Lillian Schlissel’s Jewish-American literature course.)

call it sleepRonna hopes to be back in New York in two weeks. Then what? She has no plans for the summer, but she needs money and will probably have to get an office job. She says she misses me, as I have also been missing her. (This morning in bed I had a nice dreamy fantasy of making love to her.)

Ronna is the only person I can talk to about certain things. I can’t wait till she comes back. Maybe stupidly, I am looking forward to spending time with her this summer.

George called her on Thursday to tell her he’d made the front page of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, an article in which I was quoted. (George’s grandfather turns out to be the publisher of the paper, which explains a great detail.) This weekend he and Kevin Urick are giving a reading at the Writer’s Center in Glen Echo, Maryland.

Outdoors on the porch, I marked some term papers – seven down today and three to go (plus 40 finals). As I said, I feel very content: not complacent or smug, but happy and active.

Sunday, May 14, 1978

5 PM. Mother’s Day and the rain and the rain and rain. Aujourd’hui, Maman est morte, Camus began. I can’t write anything like that, and not only because my mother is alive in the next room on the telephone with her mother. I despair of ever writing anything with a sense of style.

the west end 2Laurie read today at The West End. Her work is exquisite, painstaking, like little bubbles of champagne. I love her writing and wish I wrote the way she does.

Or why I can’t I be Arthur Rimbaud? No, I am too mundane. I am more the stand-up comic type, vulgar, waving my arms and calling oafish drivers “assholes.” No class at all. They may even let me guest-host The Tonight Show one of these weeks.

(Guest-host as a verb, eh? See what I mean?)

Laurie had another cold; she’s been getting them all year. But she still has style, grace, a presence, the appearance of wisdom, brains. I am too fat and like diet soda and burger specials (what I ate at The West End during the reading).

Also, I wear contact lenses, and when I opened my car window to unfog the rear window, a car that was parking splashed me in the left eye. The lens hurt all day. Did I ruin it? I’m wearing glasses now.

Harvey was at the reading with his cousin. “I’m waiting for you to submit something,” he says, meaning his and Joel Agee’s book on the 60s. I will submit “In the Sixties” and hope they will not accept it merely out of friendship.

reading west end barRon was also at The West End, and so were several people from the bookstore. I didn’t stay to hear John Yau, but he doesn’t know who I am, so that’s all right. You cannot offend someone if s/he does not know who you are.

Funny incident of the day: I stopped at the bookstore earlier to see if Laurie was there and maybe needed a ride to Morningside Heights. She didn’t. But I was looking at novels when I thought I heard someone mention my name.

You’re getting delusions of grandeur, I told myself.

But after thinking I heard them mention my name a second and a thir8th street bookshop interiord time, I tried to listen, and goddamn if they weren’t talking about me!

It was the editor of Back Bay View, what’s-her-name, and she was looking for Laurie; I had written her, saying she should tell Laurie to stock her magazine. I was going to say, “Hey, I’m Richard Grayson!” but I had waited too long, and besides, I was embarrassed.

How am I going to learn to be A Public Person? I will be, I guess; maybe I am already. Hey, you guys in the future, reading this diary: Don’t you have anything better to do? I’m not Arthur Rimbaud, you know. But then, if you knew him, he probably wouldn’t be Arthur Rimbaud, either.

rainy day brooklynThey say it will rain this hard for the next four days. Everywhere is flooded. Driving is awful. You need headlights during the day, especially if you don’t have a rear-window defogger.

Why do I want to call Ronna now when I just spoke to her 24½ hours ago? I didn’t say “I love you” to her yesterday. I said “I adore you.”

Avis used to say she adored Scott so she wouldn’t have to make the commitment – and risk the pain – of loving him. I just know Avis misinterpreted the “Hitler” story. It’s difficult to clear up transatlantic misunderstandings.

Last night I had trouble getting to sleep. This morning I had trouble waking rain bus bwup. More impatient dreams and hard-ons. I don’t think I need my guilt anymore. (Question: Is that structure correct? Shouldn’t it be: I think I don’t need my guilt anymore?)

Oh boy, do I feel guilty about not marking the finals – but even I know that I’m attempting to prolong the term. I still have three term papers to mark, and I’ll do them now, this minute, I promise. But I won’t get to the finals until tomorrow.

I bet all my students come round to my office; at least I hope so. The last day of the term beckons, and on this last Sunday night of the term, I have to go to bed early.

Tuesday, May 16, 1978

NY Post fire11 PM. Life seems almost unbearably exciting. From Diana Judge’s column in today’s New York Post: “TV producer-writer Richard Grayson up and married Sue Barton. They met across a crowded room last year in Cannes. . .”

No, not me, but I felt it could be.

This afternoon I got a call from Bill Knepper, chairman of the English Department at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. He wants me to fly out there for an interview; apparently I’m one of a dozen finalists for the teaching job there.

I was stunned; I was scared; I told him that the term at LIU was still going on and I didn’t know when I could get out there and that I would call him back.

I got out a map and found Sioux City, there at the junction of Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. Calling up Ozark Airlines, I learned that the one direct flight from LaGuardia each day leaves at 12:30 PM and stops at Washington, Champaign, and Peoria before landing in Sioux City at 4:30 PM their time.

I thought about my promise to myself to take risks. I told myself I wasn’t up to handling this. If it were Maryland or Virginia, I said, I would go without Ozark Airlineshesitation. But do I really want to live in Sioux City, Iowa, for a year? I don’t think so.

Yet maybe going on the interview would be a good experience for me. I’m sure I’d feel great afterwards, just knowing I could get through it. Still, my fear is real. I haven’t come to a definite conclusion, but I think I’m going to end up not going. (And hate myself for it, or at least disappointed myself?) We’ll see.

So many other exciting things are happening, and I still have finals to mark for LIU tomorrow, and I have to be there.

The other good news came in the mail – first of all, from George. I called him tonight and we spoke for 45 minutes, just like we were good old friends. (I must do that review of Nairobi that I promised him; I’ll try to get it into Northeast Rising SunNortheast Rising Sun.)

I love talking to George, and I know I’d love him if we met. Anyway, he told me he’s giving me “free rein” with the book although he needs the inside cover and the X logo on the back cover.

I’m going to get the typesetting done; it’ll cost me, but it’s more professional than his typewriter – and let’s make it look good, right?

George also suggested I used “A Disjointed Fiction” as the lead story, and I agreed. In fact, I spent this afternoon putting together the collection. Tentatively I’ve included seven stories, all unpublished so far.

George thinks, and I agree, that eventually someone will bring out a full-sized collection of my earlier work.

Citibank ad 1978I’m going to mail George a check for $300 plus a form letter for CCLM, etc. Actually, the book is almost secondary to having a friendship with George, someone I can talk little-mag talk with; I can’t really do that now with anyone else in my life.

But it will be wonderful to have a book. George is a little bitter over the way Kevin Urick handled Nairobi. (His reading with Kevin in Maryland last weekend went really well.) Anyway, I can do the cover or give it to George to handle. It’s so exciting.

And other things are good, too. I heard from Avis. She and Helmut were not offended by “With Hitler in New York”; even their English friend was happy to see his name (misspelled) in it.

Vidal Sassoon ad WarholAvis told me and Teresa – the letter was to us both – about her trip to London. She had a wonderful time, especially with Clive, and she got drunk a lot and got her hair cut at Vidal Sasson. She has a soft perm and curls now. I wish I could see her.

I miss Avis. And Ronna, too: yep, I called her tonight.

It again rained torrents today.

Friday, May 19, 1978

4 PM. The first day of my . . . do I call it a vacation? Anyway, it was a rather nice day: sunny and 73°. I even lay in the sun for an hour. This is more like it, Mr. Weatherman! More, please!

Last evening I surprised myself and wrote another story: “The Governor of the State of Depression.” Not my best, but my “not my best” stories are generally better than they were a year or two ago. Just writing so Webster Reviewmuch gives me the sophistication to avoid real “clunkers,” though many of my one-liners tend to fall flat.

The Webster Review (not to be confused with the Westbere Review) accepted “Sometimes I Wonder,” though they had reservations about some of my failed jokes.

And I got another “sorry, try again” rejection from Quarry West; the editor also happens to be the director of the Santa Cruz Writing Conference, and he’s recommended that I be given a scholarship. Nice: I think I have the courage to risk a trip to California. I can hear them telling me now: “It will open up a whole new world for you.”QuarryWest32cover_web

So I wrote one story and had another accepted: not bad for a day’s work, and it keeps me from feeling guilty.

I haven’t done anything about getting a typesetter yet; I want to relax and be less manic about it. It can wait until next week.

Last night I couldn’t sleep and so I rummaged around the house until I found the book I was looking for, A. Alvarez’s The Savage God: A Study of Suicide. I reread the introductory chapter on Sylvia Path with a kind of morbid fascination. In a sense, she wrote herself into a box.

The Savage GodSometimes I wonder (heh! heh!) if I’m not doing that, too: ripping myself open so much that in the end there’ll be no alternative left open to me but suicide.

Because of my work, I’ve been very careful not to get involved in anything that might prove destructive: liquor, drugs, intense sexual relationships. While I may be missing a lot this way, at least I’m not destroying myself.

I don’t quite trust myself, not even now. I think there’s a good possibility that I will take my own life although I’m not sure when that will be. I’m terribly afraid that these last nine years have been only a remission of a serious, fatal mental illness or despair or whatever, and when this period abruptly ends, I’ll be lost again.

gerberOf course, in some ways I long for another breakdown, for the helplessness it would create. Last night I went to the supermarket and bought strained Gerber’s baby food.

Before bed, I had a jar of custard pudding, and on arising this morning I ate strained pears and pineapples. Eating them gave me very pleasurable sensations.

Tomorrow morning I have to go to the synagogue for the bar mitzvah of Scotty next door. I’ve hardly spoken a word to that boy in the past few years, but I often hear him yelling or playing the trumpet or watching TV. His bed and mine are separated by a wall of only a few inches, so oddly, I spend my nights closer to him than to anyone else.

bar mitzvah 1964Scotty wasn’t even born at the time of my bar mitzvah, which was also at the Flatbush Park Jewish Center, also on the next-to-last Saturday in May. (I wonder if he’ll read my Haftorah, Naso, about Samson’s birth.)

Tonight I’m meeting Teresa and Pam and James for dinner in the Village and then we’re going to a show. Because I’m not used to fancy restaurants, I’m kind of apprehensive, but I’ll be okay. By now, the Village is “safe” territory for this agoraphobic. I do have a bad headache: whether it’s sinuses or tension, I’m not sure.

When I went to the Junction to xerox some things this afternoon, I sadan lurie 1w all those male Brooklyn College t-shirted bodies. How come year after year everyone seems to get more muscular, and despite my exercising, I can never seem to catch up?

Ronna or no Ronna, that doesn’t change my attraction to boys. And maybe, in a way, it can help me finally get the whole gay experience over and done with. At this point in my life, not having gone to bed with another male seems a burden.

Saturday, May 20, 1978

7 PM. The air conditioner is on. My skin is Native American red (all the better to fool the Affirmative Action people) and I feel very good. Last night I went to a fancy restaurant and to an off-Broadway play; today I went to a bar mitzvah and to the beach.

brooklyn botanice garden signLet me first deal with what I wrote about yesterday: the lure of having another breakdown. It’s not that enticing, actually; I enjoy the freedom to do all these things without having to worry about anxiety attacks or nausea.

Ten years ago all of the activities I just mentioned were nearly impossible for me. And I never, ever want to go back to that kind of hell, a hell I only dimly remember. (I wish I had kept a diary in those days – but even if I had, chances are I wouldn’t have been able to write about my feelings anyway).

Last evening I was late; Pam, James and Teresa waited half an hour for me as I got bollixed up in rush hour traffic.

waverly innWe ate outdoors in the garden of the Waverly Inn, a nice place. It was a pleasant meal with good food – I had a very tasty chicken pot pie – and good conversation.

James’s factory is getting off the ground and is doing fairly well, it seems. Somehow I can relate to Pam and James even though they never went to college and we don’t have much in common. (Do I sound like a snob?)

Don called Teresa and told her he plans to give her some money, but not all Whorehouse Off-Broadwaythat she asked him for. Naturally, he’s back with his wife again.

We had trouble finding a parking space near the theater, the Entermedia, on Second Avenue and 12th Street – old Yiddish-theater territory – but finally we made it. I loved the play, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a lively musical with warmth and a lot of imagination.

Teresa lost her contact lens during the second act, but luckily I found it under her seat after the show ended. James dropped me off by Washington Square, and as I walked through the park on the way to my car, I was glad to be in New York.washington square night

It was summer again, and Washington Square Park was alive with bongo drums, the sweet smell of pot, hanging-out people of all varieties. You don’t get that in Sioux City.

Nor can you drive through Little Italy and the Bowery and while on the Manhattan Bridge glance back to see the lower Manhattan skyline and the 1978 manhattan bridge approachStatue of Liberty in Iowa. After so many years in this city, that view never ceases to give me a thrill.

Down Flatbush Avenue I went, peeking into the fourth floor offices of LIU’s Humanities Building (does familiarity always breed nostalgia for now?).

By the Botanic Gardens, the fragrance from the flowers was almost unbearably sweet.

It was a night for lying in bed and thinking about life.

flatbush park jewish centerThis morning I walked into the sanctuary of the Flatbush Park Jewish Center for the first time in exactly 14 years – since my own bar mitzvah. I am not a hypocrite, so I parked my car right in front of the temple and I did not take a talis, nor did I attempt to daven.

Scotty’s reading of the Torah was this ridiculous section of Leviticus dealing with rules for the Levites. It sounds very elegant in sung Hebrew, but what it really was saying was that men with flat noses, blemishes on their faces, or cracked testicles cannot approach God.

Rabbi Halpern watches his congregation like a hawk, and I’ll bet he noticed my presence. The sanctuary is ten times more elegant than it was in 1964: it’s carpeted, with plush seats in pews, and magnificent artwork by the Ark.

After paying respects to the family, I left the kiddush almost immediately, riis park waterand once I changed and had lunch, I headed for Rockaway, where I lay on the sand at Riis Park for an hour.

I don’t really have the patience anymore to just sit on the beach and do nothing. I put my blanket in the gay section and felt relatively comfortable: everyone there is just people.

There were the obvious gays with their bony bodies, their short-cropped hair, their mustaches, and their all-too-finicky expressions. But there were also all-American types, elderly men who appeared to be Jewish riis park beach nudegrandfathers, boring-looking businessmen, middle-aged lesbian couples, and a considerable number of straight people.

(Margaret says she always goes to Bay 1 because there are no children there and she likes the atmosphere – and I suspect she likes looking at the totally naked people.)

No one looked at me twice, which perhaps was somewhat disappointing, and overall the experience was, if not positive, then neutral.

Gentlemans-Agreement-OS-NMLast night on TV, I saw Gentleman’s Agreement, so I’m probably highly alert to unconscious prejudice and I know how awful this will sound, but I was mildly surprised when I noticed two gay guys being introduced to a group of people and they all shook hands and said “How are you?” exactly the same way they would if they were straight men meeting at the golf course.

(God, that is stupid. But these are the kinds of things the general public needs to know. Speaking of Laura Z. Hobson, why not a TV miniseries of Consenting Adult to do for gay people what Roots and Holocaust did for blacks and Jews?)

Consenting Adult paperbackAfter leaving Riis Park, I stopped by to visit with Mikey’s mother, who was reading The Wave on her lawn, and we had a nice chat.

She hasn’t been feeling well lately, and her arthritis has been getting particularly bad: she has to get up at 5 AM every day to limber up her arms and legs so that she can go to work without falling all over the place.

Mikey won’t be finished with his law school finals for another two weeks; they have such a lousy calendar at Cardozo.

When I got home, I saw that Ronna had sent me the clipping from the Patriot-News about George in which they printed my quote about him. By patriot-news 1978now, I see myself in print so often that seeing my name in a newspaper article seems quite natural.

The National Arts Club Newsletter mentioned our reading and described Vincent, Gary and me as “charming and talented young men.” Charming? “They don’t know you very well,” Dad said.

Ronna wrote that she was glad I chose not to go to the interview at Morningside College: “New worlds are fine, as I’ll be the first to admit, but Sioux City is so far away. . . “

I can’t wait until Ronna comes back. I don’t even want to believe it will be next week because I can’t stand another disappointment. I really feel in The_Cars_-_My_Best_Friend's_Girlneed of her – as a lover, yes, but even more so as a close friend.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last saw Alice or even spoken to her much; now that she’s in Manhattan with a vengeance, our relationship isn’t what it was.

Although I’m renewing my friendship with Josh – I spoke to him today, though I turned down his offer to go to Park Slope’s “Seventh Heaven” street fair – I really need a new confidante.

And Ronna will be close by, and she understands me well and as a bonus is also very cuddly. (Did I say that?) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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