Tuesday, November 21, 1978
8 PM. Yesterday I wrote, rather stupidly, “I hate the fact that I have to teach such scum as Rosa Cordero.” Today I found a handwritten note in my mailbox at school. It began:
Para mi querido amor: Yo quisiero escribe estas lineas para decirle lo mucho que te amo, quiero decirle los momentos amorosos y apasionados que yo paso contigo en mis sueños. . .
Even I could figure that out. On the bottom of the ripped-out loose-leaf paper, there was a red lipstick outline of a woman’s lips with the words “¡Este beso es para te, amor mio! ” And it was signed “Tu enamorada, Anónima.”
“My love, Anonymous”? Good Lord, what have I gotten myself into? The letter was phony-poetic Spanish; John translated the whole thing for me:
“. . . I love you like a desperate one. . . I hope these words do not offend you, but I must say them because I cannot contain my soul. For my love for you is the most beautiful and veritable love that I have felt all my life and it doesn’t pain me to confess this. . . Now I despair with great sadness because I think this great love is not requited. . .”
Just before I had gone up to my mailbox, Rosa asked me if I had checked my mail yesterday. I said I did, but very early in the day, and she said a girl gave her a note to put in my mailbox.
I gave John an essay she handed in yesterday and asked him if the handwriting is similar. “I don’t have to look at the handwriting,” John said. “Read the essay.”
And I read: “. . . I have at Kingsborough a crush on a very special teacher named that I will not emention [sic] . He know who he is. I won’t tell him my feelings. The way I feel above [sic] him.”
I am flabbergasted by this. No one’s ever fallen in love with me like this. And look who it is: a moronic slob, probably a psychotic. I don’t feel at all flattered; it makes me queasy, as if she’s intruded into my personal life.
I’ve been asking colleagues, friends and family how to deal with this, and everyone says I should ignore it, so that’s probably the best bet. Until Rosa comes to me and confesses her “love,” I don’t have to say anything.
I had thought she was over her crush on me. But even Rosa seems to understand that I couldn’t possibly reciprocate; I hope she knows, deep down, that this is just an infatuation.
What does intrigue me (and undoubtedly there’s first-rate fictional material in this) is why Rosa chose me to idealize. Was it just that I was polite to her, as few other people are? I’m hardly a romantic figure.
Maybe this will help me understand my own crushes better – not that I take them seriously, anyway.
This morning I got a haircut, and then Wesley and I straightened out the half-titles; we’ve decided to go for vague ones like “Objects,” “Artifacts,” “Families.” Bobs thought using titles as half-titles would be confusing.
So now the book moves into the production stage, going to the designer. Six months from now, the book will be a living thing; you can’t help comparing it to a baby.
Today I got a book from the brilliant Opal L. Nations and a book and a card from Susan Schaeffer’s friend Linda Lerner. Also in the mail were as several rejections; an acceptance of a very traditional story (“A Distant Death”) by a very traditional magazine, The University of Portland Review; and a letter from the English chair of the University of New Orleans telling me to submit my letters of recommendation very soon.
I have no recommendations, really; I’ve always been embarrassed by asking for them, but now I suppose I’ll have to. Of course I’m not sure I want to move to New Orleans; I definitely don’t want to go there in the spring. Am I such a coward that I would jeopardize my academic career because of neurotic fears?
Wednesday, November 22, 1978
10 PM. I feel tired and very glad I don’t have to work tomorrow. This is my first four-day weekend since Rosh Hashona, and I’ve looked forward to it for quite some time.
This morning I got a call from Donald Stauffer, Director of Graduate Studies at SUNY/Albany. He thought he might be able to get me a fellowship for spring, and I said he should go ahead and try.
But later, I sent him a letter advising him I’d prefer a fellowship for the fall. I don’t really want to go to Albany in January. Part of it, of course, is the neurotic fear I wrote about yesterday. But I want – and I know this will sound absurd – “to finish out my ten years.”
Since the summer of 1969, when I began keeping a diary, when I began college, when I ended a long year of isolation, I’ve felt that my life really began that year. Next August I will have completed ten years of these diaries, and after that, I feel, I will be ready for the next step in life.
Even though I am still in this room, I have left it enough so that I am a part of the world. If I can finish my ten years of these diaries, I’ll somehow feel complete; I’ll be ready to die, even.
Michael Metcalf, a counselor at Kingsborough, was killed in a car crash Friday night. Sheila had mentioned it Saturday night; a friend of hers, another counselor, was very upset.
I had seen Michael in the elevator all this term, but not until today, when I saw his black-bordered photo in The Scepter, did I realize why I always felt I’d known him from somewhere else.
He was a delegate to the University Student Senate from Hunter when I represented Richmond. He was a very competent, very well-liked guy, and no, I can’t believe that I saw him on his last day alive.
Life is incredibly fragile. The murders and suicides by that cult in Guyana amazed everyone, I think, because these people were alive and well one minute and dead the next.
Classes went well today. Now that the term is ending and I’ll probably be laid off (The Scepter said “adjunct faculty will be hardest hit by the budget cuts”), I feel at home at Kingsborough. I’ve got friends on the faculty, among the staff, and I’ve even gotten attached to some of my students.
Speaking of students, Rosa came to me after class and asked if I got the note. “I haven’t checked my mailbox,” I said, unable to think of anything else. “I’m in a hurry now, so I can’t talk.”
“I just wrote, like, my feelings for you, and I hope you don’t become mad.”
“I won’t get mad,” I said, rushing to the elevator. But that was not dealing with it.
This evening I went over to Ronna’s and watched her knead dough for some pastries she was making for tomorrow’s dinner at her aunt’s. Billy and Robbie were acting like wild creatures, as usual, and snickering about “dick” being short for “detective.”
It was good just hanging out. Billy called me “a friend of the family,” and I like that. Six years ago, the night before Thanksgiving, on Wednesday, November 22, 1972, Ronna and I had our first date.
I remember that night clearly. I can see Ronna in her blue turtleneck, sniffling into a paper towel (there were no tissues in the bathroom) in the right-hand side of the Midwood Theater audience.
We saw Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon, had tea and muffins at The Foursome, and sat on the floor of my room until 2 AM. When I kissed her goodnight, she said, “I hope you don’t catch my cold.” I didn’t.
Friday, November 24, 1978
6 PM. Marc took my car to Flushing, so I got to Manhattan for my lunch date with Alice by bus and subway. I had expected to eat out, but Alice prepared a Brooklyn-style lunch of bagels, tuna, cheese and salad.
On her kitchen table was her “Thought for the Day: Fun builds character – P. Breglio.” It replaced “Work builds character – A. Trifonikis.” (Andreas is working in Miami now.)
Alice told me she’s been discouraged with the BMI musical comedy workshop; this week, when she and her partner performed three songs, Lehman Engel tore them apart. He’s a martinet and dislikes Alice’s work; in fact, he ignores all the women (he’s gay and takes out the men from the class).
Alice got a letter from the Brooklyn College journalism program asking her about her recent working experiences and inviting comments on how relevant her coursework was. Alice replied that her BC classes were no help and mentioned that Prof. Miller advised Alice she’d never make it as a writer.
Alice is still looking for a job. Richard got her an interview at Rogers & Cowan, and they’d hire Alice in a minute, at $20,000 a year, but she doesn’t want to do PR work and plan ad campaigns for perfume. When Alice complained recently about money, her brother reminded her that their father never made more than $10,000 a year in his life.
Alice generously gave me review copies of several books and we walked down West 8th Street, getting the subway uptown. We were hoping to see Movie, Movie at the Sutton, but we arrived too late, as there was an incredible line.
Coming out of the last show were Mason and Stacy, and we started talking and decided to go with them to La Crêpe. I hadn’t talked to Stacy in years (or should I say the reverse?) but she told me she was looking forward to my book, which Mason had told her about.
Evidently Stacy’s parents split up; she’s dividing her time between Brooklyn and Rockaway, trying to get into grad school in arts management, and still hoping for a musical career. One of the first things she asked me was if it was true that Ivan was married; when I told her he was, she was pumping me for information which I didn’t have. Interesting.
Apparently Stacy’s still friends with Phyllis; Alice mentioned that one of her friends at Seventeen was on the jury in a case where Phyllis argued brilliantly and won. (I’d heard that Phyllis was doing well from Ronna via Leroy and from Teresa via Costas.)
After we talked about Scott, Avis, and Robert and Judy’s wedding, Stacy suggested that I have a party inviting everyone from the old days at Brooklyn College. It was a pleasant lunch; for one thing, I was glad to see Mason again.
Alice went to the West Side to meet Peter, and I took the subway back to Brooklyn with Mason and Stacy, who gave me a lift home from the Kings Highway station on their way home to Rockaway. Stacy looks well, and I understand what attracted me to her years ago – as well as what turned me off.
Saturday, November 25, 1978
6 PM. My diary entries lately have been pretty stale. This is due to a combination of factors. Wesley’s editing, though very shrewd, has made more careful in my writing; so has teaching grammar exclusively. I’ve been hyper-aware of the flaws in my style and have been over-editing in my mind. My writing has become more controlled, more carefully correct – but I’ve lost vitality.
This is one reason I have written hardly any fiction. Now that I’m a “real” writer, I’ve gotten a fear of committing myself on paper; I’ve stopped experimenting, trying out weird things and allowing myself the possibility of flopping on my face.
This is apropos of my purchase of my 1979 diary at Barchas Book Store this afternoon. You Grayson diary fans from way back when will recall that the 18-year-old Richie bought his 1969 diary (same National Time-Line, #55-148) at a half-price sale at Barchas.
On the way home, my car hit 60,000 miles. I was stopped at Kings Highway and Avenue J, by that yeshiva which was a private school Jonny attended for a few days during the ’68 teachers’ strike.
I looked down and the odometer said 60000.9 – another tenth of a mile and I would have missed it. So, as Eric Sevareid might say (I always thought his shoulders were too big for my TV screen), “it’s been a day of milestones.” Or millstones.
My airline ticket to Miami arrived from Delta right on the day it turned frigid and I needed gloves for the first time this season.
I’m terrified of flying, but I’m going to do it; I need the warmth of Florida and the sight of my grandparents too much. I’ll take along one of those anti-phobia books I read this summer. (Was there a summer?)
Nice Thing From the Week: Riding up Flatlands Avenue to Ronna’s, an old LIU student, Stuart Charney, honked next to me. I may not like teaching, but I do like having taught. (Secretly I’ve wanted to be Mr. Chips all along.)
Last night I moseyed over to Ronna’s, where she gave me a career update: she doesn’t want to work on a weekly, only a daily.
I have no way of knowing if her goal is realistic, but I advised her to read Editor & Publisher and everything about journalism she can get her hands on. I want to spur Ronna on the way Andreas does for Alice.
We drove out to Kennedy Airport, and that sort of opened up the evening: it was a clear, cold night.
Back at Ronna’s house, we had tea and watched TV while Susan called to tell Ronna how crazy Evan’s getting because he hasn’t heard how he did on the bar exams. (I bet he failed.)
Susan, Ronna said, was annoyed to find me over again and purposely talked on the phone longer.
That being the case, and for the all-around mental health of Ronna, I told her I’d bow out of next Saturday’s dinner.
I’d really like to go, but I don’t eat shrimp – she’s cooking tempura – and am not sure I’m up for an evening with Susan, Evan and John. (I’m sure the others – Alison, Brad and Andrew – would be less offensive.) Ronna wouldn’t have time for me and would get mad if I acted aloof or annoyed, the way I did at Susan’s apartment.
I hugged and kissed Ronna in a cuddly, sweater-y, winter sort of way. It ain’t passion, but it’s tender. (Yes, I admit I’m still very attracted to Stacy. I told Ronna about Stacy’s questioning me about Ivan. “Another broken heart,” she said.)
George sent a wonderful letter, about his grandfather, the Colonel, and bike-riding, and nominating me for the CCLM grants committee. I got five rejections today and an acceptance from Snapdragon at the University of Idaho.
Sunday, November 26, 1978
4 PM on the first really cold day of the winter. It didn’t get out of 20°s last night, and since I have no steam in my room, I had to make do with an extra blanket. Today’s high was a blustery 35° and some snow is expected tomorrow morning, although it will probably change to rain later in the day.
I’ve just come back from Long Island. David from Bread Loaf called me this morning, saying he was at his brother’s fiancée’s parents’ house in Oyster Bay. David said he wanted to move to New York and “get established as a writer.” He told me I could introduce him to all my “friends in the publishing world.”
I drove out to meet David and his brother Jeff for lunch at the Howard Johnson’s in East Norwich, on Northern Boulevard. I hadn’t taken a long drive in many months, and it was a pleasure.
David looked the same, though his brother lost so much weight, I didn’t recognize him. I gently disabused David of the notion of coming to Manhattan and “the literary world.”
When he told me I could introduce him to “the New York little magazine people,” I tried not to laugh and explained that I don’t know anyone, that little magazines are widely scattered all over the country, and that he has as much chance getting accepted from Maine as from Manhattan.
He quit his job in Bath as head of his father’s plant and was willing to spend $500 a month for an apartment – “but not in the Village with the faggots.”
“Gay people,” I coldly corrected him – and felt glad I did and that they noticed.
I told David he can write stories from anywhere, that living in New York was fine, but that launching a literary career was not a good reason for moving, that I’d just gotten acceptances from magazines in Oregon and Idaho.
I was aided in this by Jeff, who detests New York and its people. They’ve been very wealthy all their lives and so can afford to play with the idea of being artists. But they’re just bigoted jerks.
I felt rather proud about my struggles with money, my living at home (“in the slums of Flatbush,” I almost said.)
Playing “poor kid” is a new favorite game of mine: I make vulgar remarks about other people’s money; for example, “Wow, you must really be rich. Is your father a millionaire?”
This morning I came up with a one-page “New Testament Diet” (“How did Jesus shed those unsightly pounds and become the slim Savior we know him as today?”) which would be great as part of a stand-up comedy routine, though I don’t know if I can find a publisher for it. Maybe I should become a comedian and forget about writing literary stuff.
Anyway, I do feel creative today, and energetic; maybe yesterday’s realization that I’ve been too serious about my writing has liberated me.
After all, I wouldn’t have written “Hitler,” “Real People” or “Chief Justice Burger” for a book – too undignified – yet those stories are what’s going in the book.
Why? Because they’re weird and Richard Grayson-ish. That’s what got me where I am today, with Disjointed Fictions next to Graves’ I, Claudius on the shelf at the Eighth Street Bookshop.
Monday, November 27, 1978
7 PM. Throughout this past week, we’ve been seeing images of incredible violence on TV. First there was the murder of Congressman Ryan and the reporter at the airstrip in Guyana by the followers of the Rev. Jim Jones.
Next there were those horrible photos of 900 decomposing bodies of People’s Temple members: the mass suicide recalled Masada, the piling up of corpses reminded me of the Holocaust.
Today San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was shot by a city official he’d recently fired; then the man ran across City Hill to the Board of Supervisors meeting and shot gay activist supervisor Harvey Milk.
Immediately I recalled (and of course the networks replayed) the scenes of Mayor Moscone a week ago regretting his one-time appointment of Jim Jones as Housing Chairman and of Harvey Milk breaking down in tears at the funeral of his friend Leo Ryan. He had no idea – oh, this sounds banal – he too would be dead in a week.
They say the shooting had no connection with the Guyana massacre, but I believe that violence conditions us to expect and even to perpetrate further violence. Human life is so terribly fragile as it is, and here people make it their business to destroy others’ lives on their own.
I don’t know what to make of it. Not for ten years have I felt the world to be such a dangerous place, not since the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the Chicago convention riot of 1968.
Today was a hostile day, anyway. There was snow most of the day. I can’t remember snow in November before. A bad sign of a long winter or is it a false start? Driving to Kingsborough was treacherous, as I slid all over the road.
Only a few students showed up for my 12:40 PM class. Rosa handed me a so-called term paper that was actually a word-for-word copy of an article by Jonathan Kozol. I have to give her an F on it, but I worry: she is capable of great violence, I’m certain, and she’s crazy.
If she can love so passionately, couldn’t she also try to kill me? I know this is my imagination running wild, but an F isn’t much different than being fired from a $10,000 job with the city of San Francisco.
Rosa has so much emotional energy invested in me, or rather, in her image of me. Last year a teacher was shot by dead by a student he failed. If anyone is capable of murdering me, Rosa is. I know I have to pass her in the course.
Jesus, I feel as though I’m living in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and it doesn’t feel very good.
For the first time in my life I got stuck on an elevator today. I went into the elevator, pushed the button for the third floor (where the English Department is) and nothing happened.
I was alone. I rang the alarm; I called out. Finally I pressed the “Door Open” button and the door opened to the first floor; I had been there all the time.
The snow turned to freezing rain by the time I made my way to the 3 PM class. Some of the accumulation melted, and driving home was a bit easier.
It’s raining now, as temperatures are rising. It’s so weird to see snow on the streets again; it’s as if winter had always been here, as if there never was a summer.
The Authors Guild sent me their model contract; I don’t have much protection in my contract, but I felt I couldn’t negotiate.
Tuesday, November 28, 1978
7 PM. A peculiar day. I dreamed dozens of dreams last night and did not want to get up this morning. So when my car died on Ralph and Avenue N on my way home from the bank, I took that as an omen that fate didn’t want me to go to school.
I could have made it on time: the AAA boosted me at about noon, the usual time I leave, but I didn’t want to go in. When I called Evalin, she was out sick too, so I gave my name to the student aide.
I can’t help feeling a bit guilty, as I used to do when I stayed out of high school because I was avoiding something. I dread going back tomorrow; I’m just sick of teaching and sick of Kingsborough.
Two weeks from tonight I’ll be free – sixteen more classes – ten more days. Yet I can see where I’ll be depressed staying home and not working. The winter is so deadly and I almost always get depressed.
That’s why I’m so glad Avis is coming in December and that I’m going to Florida after she leaves. If I know nothing else about my mental health, I know that inactivity makes me very depressed. So it’s a heads-I-lose, tails-you-win kind of thing.
Books help. In the past 24 hours I’ve read Carolyn Heilbrun’s Toward a Recognition of Androgyny, Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar magazine (a nice guy, he sent it to me for free), and J.L. Dillard’s All-American English.
I went to the CCLM office and used their library; also I got their list of fall grants, but I don’t have the urge to submit everywhere as I used to. For one thing, I don’t have that much unpublished, unaccepted work; for another, getting published in little magazines doesn’t matter as much as it used to.
And the cost of submitting is so expensive. The Consumer Price Index reached 200 today, meaning that everything costs twice as much as it did in 1967.
When I was a high school senior, gasoline went for 30¢ a gallon, postage stamps cost a nickel, buses and subways were 20¢, and rarely did a paperback book cost more than $1.25. I guess we paid a couple of dollars to get into a movie. I remember pizza at 20¢ a slice.
Dad used to tell me about the low prices during the Depression, and I seem to have the same stories now. Dad is probably making the same salary he made in 1967 – but that means his real income has been halved. Hell, even in 1972, Dad gave me $40 a week allowance and never missed it.
I applied for various jobs in the Sunday Times, including a position as editorial assistant to Eliot Janeway, the economist. I’m just not certain what it is I want to do. I know I want time to read and write, but more than that, I just don’t know. I am tired of teaching, that’s for sure.
Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel stopped by on their way home from NYU Hospital. The doctors found no spread of the rash but warned Grandma Ethel that she still has cancer and must return every six weeks for three years. They laughed themselves silly when they heard of Grandma Ethel’s health-food diet.
Isaac Bashevis Singer was interviewed in the Sunday Times Magazine, and I was relieved to learn that he wrote nothing for ten years; that gives me some hope.
A great deal is made of the “sufferings” of writers (I’ve read a couple of essays on Lowell and Sexton recently). I don’t think writers “suffer” more than other people. Perhaps their suffering is more interesting, that’s all.
Wednesday, November 29, 1978
8 PM. The National Weather Bureau’s forecast is for a mild winter this year. Let’s hope so. Most of the snow has melted by now. I feel free, knowing that I have only one class each of the next two days – and on Friday I’m having my students write, so I don’t have to prepare anything.
Less than two weeks to go and you can feel it around school. Everyone’s looking ahead to finals and Christmas vacation. I had two pretty good classes today; I suppose I do have good rapport with my students even if I dislike teaching.
I gave Rosa back her term paper, which she vehemently denied copying. I asked her the meaning of some of the words in her essay, and she grew exasperated: “I don’t know, I just wrote it!”
Her tutor sent me a note that she missed two consecutive sessions and is being dropped from tutoring. In between classes, I had my own tutoring session with Maria Martinez, a lovely Cuban girl who wants extra help – and I gave her tips on style.
Now if Maria were in love with me. . . But of course she’s too intelligent for that. (“I’ve noticed you often put yourself down,” Maria told me. “You shouldn’t do that.”) Anyway, I suppose I have a grudging affection for most of my students.
This week’s mail has brought nothing but rejections and junk mail. After last week, I was expecting an acceptance a day. David sent me a story to criticize and help him get published; he’s living with his family in Newton Centre now.
This morning I got up early and went to the post office and to do some shopping. At Christie’s I met my friend James, one of the interns, who lives a few blocks away.
Mikey called and asked if I could participate in a mock voir dire at his law school tonight, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it in time: too bad, as I probably have enjoyed it.
Thursday, November 30, 1978
1 PM. This morning I wrote my first story in nearly three months. It feels good to finally get something good down on paper. Even as I put the first sheaf in the typewriter, I felt very clumsy and nervous; I made three typos in my name and address.
But after seven pages, I finished what I think is a publishable story, “Relentless Days, Corduroy Nights.” I used the same expanding sentence device I employed in “Roman Buildings” and “Appearance House.” It makes for a dreamlike story.
The ending was dream I had last night: Ronna and I were on a terrace, watching boats pass by below. A Hispanic family on a boat overturned and a little boy drowned. We looked down on them and I cried, “Oh, Ronna, life is so relentless. So much happens. How can we keep up with it all? There’s no time for anything.”
I’m sure I couldn’t have written the story on any other day but Thursday when I don’t have the pressure of leaving the house at noon.
This makes me certain that with less outside pressure, I will be able to write as I used to. It’s such a relief; for a while I thought I was never going to write another story again.
I got a letter from Gretchen Johnsen of Gargoyle. She and Rick Peabody want to use “What About Us Grils?” in place of “Minimum Competency Test” in their double fiction issue. I agreed that it’s a stronger piece and gave them my okay.
Michael Lally sent me a wonderful letter. I could fall in love with him, I know it. I admire him so much and he said he loved “Go Not to Lethe,” which I’d sent him. Michael said to keep in touch and so I sent him a copy of Disjointed Fictions.
In a couple of hours I’m teaching comparison and contrast, but I’m not too prepared. Hell, it’s the end of the term and I’m sick of the whole thing, as are my students.
I spoke to Ronna last night; she and Alison had dinner at Shakespeare’s in the Village. Last Sunday, Phil came in and they had a nice time. She hasn’t yet heard from any of the newspaper editors she wrote to. Next week she’s got an interview with the Placement Service at Penn State.
Tomorrow Ronna and I have that cystic fibrosis association benefit disco party at Studio 54; I’m kind of sorry I bothered with it now (as I knew I would be).
My car didn’t start this morning, so we had to call the AAA again; I’m afraid the Comet needs a new battery.
What I said in my dream – and in my story – about life being relentless is trite and banal, but it’s so true. It pains me how little I’ve done, how much I’ve yet to do. If I do have a real enemy, it’s my Timex ticking away.