Thursday, June 22, 1978
7 PM. It’s been a pleasant day. I’ve just come back from Rockaway, where I paid Grandpa Herb a belated Father’s Day visit.
Grandma Ethel made a fine supper – corn soup (a real treat), two hamburgers, french fries and a salad – and I’m quite stuffed. Grandma Ethel still has her itchy rash, but other than that, my grandparents are all right.
On Sunday Marty took them out on his boat and then to a restaurant in the evening. Grandpa Herb gave me what he called “a Father’s Day gift”: a tie and bottle of English Leather cologne, which were given to him by a blind Irish woman downstairs whom he regularly drives to the doctor.
Damn! Dad just came into my room and started, “I don’t know . . . I may need you tomorrow . . . we may be getting a shipment in.” I hate the idea of going in and I resent Dad’s asking me. But I’ll do it. I don’t know why: guilt, I guess.
“Guilt is a useless emotion,” says Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. “Responsibility is the hallmark of aristocracy,” says Edie Bouvier Beale, explaining why she gave up a life of her own to care for her homebound neurotic mother.
While I’m trying to rid guilt from my life, I don’t know what to do with responsibility. In the past few weeks I’ve realized I am not so much a burden to my parents as a godsend.
They borrow my car, ask me to do errands, I type up all Dad’s letters of credit and bills of lading, etc. They’re getting good value for the money, I want to say. But what does that even mean?
Yesterday there was a terrible traffic jam on the Gowanus, but I didn’t get upset; in my mind I was writing a story, a story which never got written on paper because it has faded away. Oh well, perhaps part of it will return.
I got to Mikey’s apartment at 6:30 PM or so. He had been in court all day with the assistant attorney general to whom he is assigned.
While I was there, a call came from a friend about a possible job, one that pays more than the $5 a day Mikey’s making now, at the Staten Island District Attorney’s office. Naturally, Mikey is going to follow up on it.
We drove down to the Village from 23rd Street and had a light snack at Zum Zum, then took in Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women at the Art.
When we left the theater at 10 PM, it was humid but cooler; a thunderstorm was brewing, and I drove home to Brooklyn during the worst of it. It felt so peaceful, though, driving along Ocean Parkway at night in the rain.
Last night I felt so exhilarated that I didn’t get to sleep until 2 AM. I was jotting down notes for stories and just generally feeling good.
This morning I awoke with a headache and then a metaphorical headache bothered me: my car. It’s losing oil still, and now I need a new hose and a new battery, the shocks have to be welded, water is leaking onto the front seat from the air-conditioner, and God knows what else needs fixing.
As everyone knows, Ford stands for “Fix Or Repair Daily.”
I think I want to sell the Comet already and get rid of all the hassle. It will be very difficult for me to be without a car, but I know people who have gotten used to worse deprivations.
I might even make enough money on the deal to get my own apartment. And if I had my own place, the freedom and independence of a car wouldn’t be so necessary, would it?
After failing to locate an IBM Selectric to rent this morning, I finally called Flatbush Typewriter and told them to deliver one tomorrow; it will cost $37.50 for the month.
I bought legal-sized typing paper, and I’m going to start doing my book as soon as possible. I sort of like the idea of doing it myself; this way I’ll feel the book is more mine.
Today I answered two personals ads in the Voice, both from younger guys who sounded interesting. Despite Ronna’s being here, I will not give up exploring the gay part of myself, and I don’t think Ronna wants me to.
“Everyone is bisexual,” she said the other day. And Mayor Koch has decided to proclaim this Gay Pride Week after all.
Alice phoned from work today. She said she has some news but was unable to tell me about it because she didn’t want anyone at Seventeen to overhear.
I feel contented and discontented at the same time, but that’s all right for now.
Friday, June 23, 1978
10 PM. I hope I don’t dream of typing my book tonight – for that’s all I’ve been doing since 2 PM, when my IBM Selectric arrived.
I tend to get obsessed with my projects, and though I promised myself I’d type up only one story a day, today I did 2½ stories and have in fact completed about one-third of the book.
The typeface on the ball is italic, and I hope it’s readable. I tore legal-sized typing paper in half, make one-inch margins all around, and then I just typed.
Doing this myself really makes me feel more involved in the book; for the first time since George told me about it, I feel excited about Disjointed Fictions. It won’t seem real, though, until I have a copy of the chapbook in my hands.
Last evening I spoke to Ronna, and I’m afraid I depressed her talking about my frustrations. Even as I spoke I knew they would pass, that they were temporary.
She and Alison have been scooting all over town: to Broadway, the Village, etc. Tonight they were out somewhere. If not for the work I’ve been doing, I probably would be feeling lonely.
Last night I wrote a short, easy piece: “The Problem of Form in Fiction.” But I expect I’ll keep new stories on the back burner of my mind this week, at least until I finish typing the book.
In bed last night, I began reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journals. God, that man knew about life! I have to read him very slowly, doing a lot of thinking and underlining and responding in my head and on paper.
I feel a kinship with Emerson even though his life was so far removed from my own. Sometimes I think I’d rather be a writer like Emerson or Carlyle than a novelist.
In the introduction to the Journals, Lewis Mumford says that Emerson’s true vocation was being Emerson: I like that. Is it pompous of me to think of myself one day “being Grayson”?
My little essay that Sasha Newborn liked begins with a story I wrote in second grade and ends with my meeting Saul Bellow and him saying he’ll look for me. “Here I am, Mr. Bellow,” I say at the end of the essay.
God, I’m so embarrassed I wrote that, and Sasha says that a lot of people will hate it/me when it appears in the anthology. But I still think if you dare to take on a great challenge and fail it, it is better than advancing timidly in life: at least I feel that way in my work.
When I get depressed now, it doesn’t hurt so badly because I feel that the despair is going somewhere, into something. Despite all the rejections, the financial worries, the lack of job prospects (today I got a very nice form letter turning me down for a job at Old Dominion University), I do see movement now.
In a crazy kind of way, my relative poverty, obscurity and powerlessness are advantages. I can do and say things that more established, “mature” adult writers can’t. I can afford to be silly or perverse or in the worst possible taste (as the Iowa Review rejection slip put it).
I’m not a fanatic, mind you. The reason I like Emerson is that he had no system, no view of the cosmos, no demonology. Writers who join movements worry me, as do exquisite dogmatists like Blake or Yeats.
God, I do go on a lot, yapping about writing, don’t I?
Dad had no work for me today after all, and before the typewriter arrived, I didn’t do very much: I gave myself an hour in the noon sun to keep my dark tan.
Gary called. He’s anxious to see me, but I don’t know what I’ve got to say to him anymore. “Nothing’s new” on his end, as usual: he’s still “working, slaving away and looking” – with no new job in sight. Now I bet Gary gets more depressed than I do these days. It’s good that he has a shrink to help him.
Tuesday, June 27, 1978
7 PM. Dear Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: Today I came up against precisely the kind of bureaucratic victimization that you talk about in your book, Pulling Your Own Strings.
This morning I rushed out of the house at 10 AM with the beginnings of a sinus headache (but figuring I’d take a Tylenol when I returned home). I went to the E line at the Unemployment office and I was told they wanted to interview me and that I should take a seat in Section C.
I ran down to put another dime in my half-hour meter and then returned. I waited and waited, and finally the supervisor, a pipe-smoking man about 55, called my name and I came up as summoned.
He wanted to know if I would be teaching at LIU in the fall. I explained that I didn’t know and wouldn’t know until registration. He wrote some things down and then told me to take a seat.
After another half-hour, I went up to the young lady who seemed to be as in charge as anyone there was. I told her I’d been waiting for a long time.
“There are some people here since 9 AM,” she said, without looking up. “The average wait is three hours.”
Now, Dr. Dyer – Wayne – I know this was irrelevant to me and did not have an effect on my own case. She was just comparing me with everyone else and telling me to sit down and be a good little boy.
But I didn’t know how to respond. I knew my first impulse was to be nasty – “The average life span is 70 years, but if I kill you, you’ll be an exception” – which would only make everything a lot worse.
So I went out, put my car in the indoor municipal lot (so rattled I almost entered through the exit) and had a bite at Burger King. By this time, I had an awful headache. It was 90° and humid.
At 1 PM, I returned to the office, was told I had a long wait even though people who came after me were already finished. “Look at the sign,” a worker said: YOU MAY NOT BE CALLED IN TURN BECAUSE CERTAIN WORKERS HANDLE CERTAIN CASES.
So, Wayne, I decided to make the best of reality and I tried to engage the security guard in conversation: how long had he been working there, did he enjoy his job, etc. Like most people when given half a chance, he turned out to be a very nice human being.
We discussed everything from crime to education to war. (Among his fellow soldiers in World War II, he said, the biggest braggarts always turned out to be the worst cowards under fire.)
As the time kept passing, I went up to another worker and asked why I was going to be interviewed.
“Because you worked for a relative,” he said, without looking up.
I said I knew that wasn’t true.
The worker at the next desk said, “Well, you checked that box on your form.”
Of course that turned out be the form of someone named Randy Freeman.
Anyway, I kept making a pest of myself, going up there every twenty minutes wanting to know when I’d be called. The other people waiting there became hostile to me, as if I was trying to screw them.
(Victims hate other victims, right, Wayne? But maybe they were secretly rooting for me as well?)
I finally got hold of the supervisor and asked him why I had to wait so long.
“Because of the cutbacks in our budget,” he said. “We had to lay off five people.”
I asked him who I could see to talk about it.
“The Governor,” he snapped.
(Wayne, I screwed up somewhere.)
Well, at 3:15 PM, after 4½ hours of waiting, I was called – only to be told that since LIU hadn’t responded to my claim yet, I couldn’t be interviewed (!) and would have to come back next Wednesday.
Although they let me sign for credit for a check, I was furious. Who could I take it out on? The sad-looking black man who was my caseworker? He just shrugged and sighed and told me the cutbacks were because unemployment was supposedly down.
“See you and the other people waiting here?” he said. “According to the state, all you people are just figments of the imagination.”
I came home felling utterly humiliated, as if my personhood had been torn away.
Wayne, you haven’t been any help today.
Wednesday, June 28, 1978
5 PM. I was supposed to go into the city and do something with Mikey and Larry this evening, but I’m going to call and give them some excuse. I don’t feel like taking my car to Manhattan in this 90° heat, especially since I’ve just come back from taking Josh to Staten Island to pick up his new car, a ’69 VW Karmann Ghia.
Getting back to the subject of what I did yesterday at the Unemployment office, in chatting up the security guard, I really did think of what Wayne Dyer might suggest I do in that situation. Being hostile is no good, but I can be creative when I’m stuck somewhere for four hours.
Suppose I go there next Wednesday with a notebook and ask everyone there I’m dealing with his or her name, saying I’m writing an article. People might get uneasy and get me out of there more quickly. I could take photographs. Or if I want to take another tack, I can enhance that place’s humanity – what little it has – by giving out bubblegum or lollipops to everyone.
If I want to make people laugh, I could wear a gorilla mask or bring along a hand puppet. Next Wednesday I can do a variety of things to make the long wait pleasant.
I’m almost looking forward to it with a sense of adventure. And I’m trying to put other “non-victim” principles into effect.
Yesterday I received a form letter from the English Department chairman of Nassau Community College turning me down for a Lab Assistant position. The letter stated that they wanted someone with a B.A. in English and experience in remediation. And after all, I only have two master’s degrees and teaching remediation experience.
So I called up the college and asked to speak to “Peggy” (not “Professor Haskell” – Dyer says to use first names and it worked). They said she’d call me back, but then I found out her home number and left a message there. Since I don’t really care about getting the job, I can afford to look silly or nervy; I want to see where it will get me.
I told Jonny to do the same when he found out he failed Economics even though he had a 74 average. And talk about being silly: I just sent away to the Village Voice to have this ad put in their bulletin board section: “Learn To Write Fiction — The Richard Grayson Way! Send $1 for first lesson: Grayson, 1607 E 56 St, Bklyn, NY 11234.” It’s worth the $18 to see if I get any responses. I don’t expect to, but who knows? Maybe people will see my name and think I’m an asshole – but they’ll be thinking about me, right? And maybe this will be a good way to sell Disjointed Fictions.
Look, we’re in New York City, the media capital of the world. I’m reasonably bright and I should be able to figure out a way to get free publicity. The strategy I’ve got to take must be creative.
For example, I’d really like my work to get to Ted Solotaroff, Eliot Fremont-Smith, Harvey Shapiro and Irving Howe – but how to get through to them past the mounds of books and manuscripts they must get every day (most of which end up at the Strand Book Store anyway)?
One idea – and you could do this only once – might be to send the books to their wives at home. At least it will get into their homes and possibly to their wives – who may feel neglected or whatever and who will mention it to them, maybe just to annoy them. It’s worth a chance, isn’t it?
If I sound silly, fine. Tim O’Brien at Bread Loaf told me that he was interested in moral issues, especially courage, and he asked me what the point of a “silly” story like “Joe Colletti” was. Well, Tim-hotshot-novelist-beloved-by-critics, maybe the point was that it takes courage to be silly these days. My biggest breakthroughs in my work have come when I stopped caring what people thought and went ahead with something idiosyncratic and playful.
The galleys of “I, Eliza Custis” arrived from Texas Quarterly and I’ve got to correct and return them by next week; the story looks very classy, and long, too.
Impact accepted “Why Van Johnson Believes in ESP,” and the editor said he loved my story in Statements 2 and was about to get in touch with me when he got my submission. Nice, huh?
Friday, June 30, 1978
8 PM. I’ve felt very creative these past few days, but it’s a creativity that hasn’t resulted in anything major, just a lot of little clever things and some ideas I’ll put away in my story file. At this point in my life, I believe I could write full-time and be happy.
Though I’ve seen no movies or shows this week, had little contact with friends, done nothing except read, write, lie in the sun, exercise, eat and sleep, I feel I’ve had an exciting week.
Intellectually, I feel terrific: this must be the high point of some cycle. (Next week will undoubtedly be the dregs.) Everything that happens seems to take on enormous significance; everything that happens seems interconnected and providential; I seem to be able to use everything that happens.
I’d need a diary twice this size to handle 10% of what I’d have liked to write this week. And there seems to be progress in the outside world, too.
I sent Eliot Fremont-Smith of the Voice a copy of my libelous “Weird Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists” with a note attached, on fake E.L. Doctorow stationery: “I heartily recommend this piece. Are you man enough to publish such a daring exposé? – Eddie”
“Dear Eddie, No,” wrote Eliot Fremont-Smith. His going along with the gag means that he may remember me.
Max Benavidez of Fifth Sun is taking “Significant Others,” a story I’m so fond of, in part because it’s been rejected so many times. Michael and Michele Bell selected my 1” x 1” poem “Homonym” for their anthology of miniature poems for Pyramid Scheme Editions. Also, The Bellingham Review came today with my “Princess from the Land of Porcelain.”
And finally Sasha Newborn wrote me about his First Person Intense anthology which will come out in the fall with autobiographical writings of some heavy hitters: Bukowski, Kostelanetz, Stanley Berne, Morty Sklar, George (I love being in books with George), and others. They want a black-and-white photo of me and the other contributors; it’s going to be a really fine anthology, I think.
Last night I wrote a two-page prose piece, “Coming Out of the Library,” contrasting an experience I had nine years ago, when I was teased on Avenue T for being effeminate to one I had last night when I passed some similarly intimidating hoody-looking kids on Avenue N and Ralph.
But listening to their conservation, suddenly I realized that all of these guys hanging out on my own neighborhood corner, smoking cigarettes in their sleeveless undershirts, were gay.
It was weird, but it didn’t really make much difference in how I felt towards them: they’re still the same goofy neighborhood jerks as the kids who made fun of me as a teenager.
(Actually, the teasing was pretty mild back then. I had a pack of Newports I’d bought for Mom in the drugstore, and a girl in the group asked me if she could bum a cigarette from me. When I went over to give her one, a guy said, “Careful, it may be perfumed!” and they all started laughing. I laughed, too, not wanting to show it bothered me.)
Late last night Ronna phoned, surprising me greatly – but I was glad to hear from her. She and Alison have been traipsing around New York ever since they got back from Harrisburg, where they picked up Ronna’s signed thesis.
Ronna asked me to come along with them, but I’m not certain I feel like it, and I turned down her offer to go with them to Shakespeare in the Park tonight. When Alison leaves, I’ll see Ronna alone; there’s a lot we have to talk about.
Today was warm but not humid, and I got in a nice swim in the pool. When I called Josh, he said he was having a lot of trouble with his new car. Tonight Josh was planning to go visit Simon.
Jerry Bisogno came over tonight with great junk he’d found in an old East New York newspaper office: hotel brochures from the 1920s; Brownsville papers heralding FDR’s third term reelection; old letters from people long dead; boxing posters; fashion photos.
It was a treasure of old-time stuff. Jerry is one of the world’s great junk collectors. For me, the gem of the group he showed us was a letter written in 1928 by a Robert McLaughlin of Manhattan Beach, who included a blueprint of his patented “autogyro” which he said predated that of the Spaniard Juan de la Cierva, the man known as “the father of the helicopter.”
McLaughlin obviously thought he’d not gotten proper credit or rewards for his invention. I guess I can understand how he felt even if he was a crackpot. Sometimes I think I’m a little bit (or more) of a crackpot myself.