Wednesday, December 13, 1978
Six bells (Alexander Grahams?) and it’s time for another – the latest – in a series of increasingly pretentious diary entries. (Hey, what the fuck do you want? Tentative answer: the 1969 Richie G.)
Anyway, folks, I had to get up early this morning to drive to Kingsborough. No one told me it’s still dark out at 7 AM these days!
My students were, as usual, befuddled, and I’ll be surprised if more than half of them pass the placement exam. (It’s hard to believe that after 13 weeks of stressing the crucial nature of the CUNY test, some students will still ask, “Is this gonna count a lot?”)
Ah, well, I do not have to see their faces again. The Kingsborough campus is nice at 7:30 AM, though, but it’s probably just the absence of people and the way the early morning light falls on the waves.
At 10:30 AM, it was pens down, and at the English Department, much trading of exams. Howard Nimchinksy, the chairman, seems to think I’m a sub-normal retard; he carefully took the placement tests from me.
And Evalin wondered what I was doing behind her desk when I was picking up my English 23 class’s finals. Somehow I’m treated like a little errand boy. Another professor asked me on the elevator, “Do you have the time, son?”
“Ten-forty-five, sir!” I chirped brightly, like Tiny Tim.
Back in the old office I’ve come to know and not love, Steven Antell and Anna Bono and I chatted. Can We Collect Unemployment? Will We Be Rehired Next Term? (Probable answers: No and No.)
I drove Anna to the Brighton train station. She, too, is a writer – or would like to be one. I showed her my book’s catalog copy, which probably upset her. (It would me, if I were the one being shown her book’s catalog copy.)
Then I picked up Jonny and the kids from next door at school; Mom had asked me to do so in return for her cleaning my room. Now that Mom has told Maud we can afford her only two days a week now, she expects Maud to leave soon for greener pastures.
By the time I got home, I had the shakes from hunger and had to drink lots of grape juice with my whole wheat bread, Jarlsberg cheese and lettuce. I spent most of the afternoon in my underwear with soap operas droning in the background.
(Sometimes I think I like soap operas because they present a Jew-less world. We can laugh in wonder at the messes Gentiles make of their lives.)
I exercised slightly, fixed up my school record books, marked – or rather, graded: I barely looked at them, my English 23 finals – and recorded the class’s final grades without having really marked seven term papers (so what?).
Then I looked at the Village Voice and saw that Brad has yet another ad in: “GWM, 27, blue-jeaned, shy, seeks younger male to spend Xmas day with. And more?”
I left a message on Brad’s answering machine: “Didn’t you used to be five years older than me?” Brad has an age hangup. When we met in the summer of 1969, he told me he was 23; of course, he may have wanted to be older then and lied to me.
He must be a compulsive liar about his age because I doubt he’s 32 now. Probably he’s about 30. I think it’s sad Brad has to lie about his age – but then I get called “Sonny” a lot.
(Come on, Grayson: you look at writers’ biographies to see if they published their first book before or after age 27, and recently you wondered if people would do that with you. Subtract 1951 from 1979 and you get 28, so they won’t realize I’ll actually be 27 and 11/12 next May when the book is published.)
After getting a long-winded rejection letter from Hanging Loose’s Ron Schreiber, I felt insulted for a couple of minutes, and yes, I had the nasty thought: “What do you know? I’m having a commercial book published.”
Not nice, my friend.
Tomorrow they grade the placement exams and I don’t have to go into Kingsborough until Friday. It seems very late in the day.
Friday, December 15, 1978
11 PM. I wonder if I’ll have as good dreams tonight as I had last night, when I had an incredibly erotic dream in which I made love to, of all people, Ronna. I’m always slightly amazed when my unconscious fantasies agree with my conscious behavior.
Most of my conscious sexual fantasies are gay: about 70% of them, I’d say – as are most of my dreams about sex.
But last night with Ronna was something. I felt closer to her in the dream than I have been in reality over the last month. We haven’t seen much of each other, and our meetings have been brief – even earlier this week, when I called her every day to find out how she was feeling. Well, it’s hard to be close when one of you is ill, and we’ve both been sick this month.
This evening I spoke to Ronna briefly. She was on her way to see Superman with her sister, and she said I should pick her up tomorrow at 8 PM at Susan’s.
On Sunday she and Susan are having guests: Felicia and Spencer are in from Mobile. Once again I felt annoyed that I’m not invited, and even if I don’t like them, I’d still like the chance to turn down the invitation. But maybe that young law student Ronna likes is her date for the evening.
And of course when Avis comes in and I see her, Ronna won’t be a part of that. The relationship I have with Avis goes back longer than my relationship with Ronna, and I guess it’s always been more sexual than, say, my relationships with Alice or Libby.
If things had worked out differently, Avis and I could have been lovers, and I still love her in a physical way. (Yes, I would like to make love to Avis, but I’m certain it would ruin our friendship.)
At Kingsborough, I looked over the placement exams; generally, my students did well. The whole system, however, is terrible, and everyone in the office seemed confused about it.
But I handed in my grades, my roll book, and the keys to the office. My only remaining duty is to proctor that exam on Monday morning. So now I’m basically a free man.
I spent much of the afternoon sending out a bunch of manuscripts, something I haven’t done much of in recent months. Susan Lloyd McGarry wrote and said her essay on my work – more “overview” than criticism – was typeset, as was my “Roominations” story, for the double fiction issue of Aspect, due out in February.
She wanted to know if the Taplinger book was definite, so I sent her the catalog copy; her essay should be good publicity.
Eugene Garber wrote me a very kind letter from Albany, saying he’s looking forward to meeting me. He learned from Knute Skinner that I admire his work.
Libby sent me a Christmas card that’s meant for Avis – I haven’t opened it – and I got cards from Karla Hammond, Marie and Stuie, and Alice. (This year I’m sending cards only to people who send me one first.)
I spoke to Gary and to Elihu, both of whom are the same as ever; I can’t believe I know them both since high school. My car badly needs a tune-up: I can hardly stand it because it shakes so when I come to a stop. My room has no humidifier and no steam, and even with two blankets, I freeze at night.
G’night, folks – sleep tight.
Sunday, December 17, 1978
4 PM. Winter Sundays are so bleak. At no other time do I feel so trapped in my situation. I have to get out of this house, and the only way to do that is to become successful. And for me, success means fame.
I know instinctively that I’m going to be famous – or maybe that’s just a hope.
Last night, licking an envelope, I got a deep paper cut on my lower lip; it’s quite painful and keeps opening because my lips are so chapped. The wind is howling now, and since I don’t have a humidifier, I can’t have steam in my room; it’s a choice of either freezing or stifling.
My car can’t last much longer. Writing all this, I find myself sinking into despair. But Avis is in, and I have time to see Ronna now, and I’ve got to hold onto the thought that things won’t always be this difficult.
At 8:30 PM last evening, I met Ronna at the Junction, where we went to dinner at Jentz. Ronna looked very young and vulnerable standing outside in her blue pea coat; she had that little-girl quality that I’ve always loved.
Over hamburgers, we talked about Bloomsbury and success and what she and Susan are baking for today’s party. I wish I had more to offer Ronna; she deserves more. Even after six years, our relationship seems so tentative.
At least we don’t fight anymore, and that makes her happy. She was very understanding about Avis though she admitted she was disappointed I was punking out on her and said she wouldn’t have done the same thing to me.
But Ronna knows, I trust, that my seeing Avis last night didn’t mean I love her any less.
When I finally got to Avis’s parents’, it was late because I’d been talking with Ronna in the car. Avis’s hair is frizzed, but otherwise she looks much the same; after the long trip from Europe, she was a bit out of it. Avis now talks in a kind of singsong cadence: a result, I imagine, of living in Germany for so long.
Helmut had his tonsils removed on Monday, and it was a complicated operation because he started hemorrhaging. He can’t eat spicy or hot foods for weeks, and the doctor (whom Helmut calls “the butcher”) told him if he has any Scotch on Christmas, they’ll have to scrape him off the ceiling.
Avis and I sat in her parents’ living room for ninety minutes, until she got tired. She wants to see people in New York, but there aren’t many left: Mason, Teresa, Mikey, Jacob. She said she’s even willing to see Stacy or Scott.
Avis and Helmut have been having problems with the house in Bremen, and while she’s here, she has to call the owner, who is currently a visiting professor at Harvard; when he left Germany, their landlord left everything for them to take care of. Avis said that the water pipes burst during a cold spell and the oil tank needs to be refilled and their electric bills have been very high.
Avis gave me a copy of Stern and I gave her last week’s New Times, the issue on American Decadence. It seems as though she’s planning on staying in Bremen after all; at least she gave no indication she’s planning on leaving. I told her we could do something tomorrow, after I finish proctoring that English 12 exam.
I got to bed late last night and woke up at 10:30 AM today. David from Bread Loaf called from Newton, wondering why I hadn’t sent him critiques of his stories and suggestions for places to submit them. I apologized for the delay and today sent him out watered-down criticism.
God, David has no feeling for words at all. “Anna was Bill’s cohabitant,” he writes, without a trace of irony. “Nature’s harbingers signaled a gloomy winter.” At least his writings give me self-confidence.
I think I’m going to have to get David off my back somehow; he’s actually planning on moving to New York in January “to be a writer” now that he’s found a friend with an apartment who’ll let him stay. Sooner or later, he’s going to find out he’ll never make it.
Tuesday, December 19, 1978
Almost midnight. I picked up Avis at 2:30 PM, and after driving to the Sheepshead Bay station, we took the D train to 42nd Street and went to the public relations office at the Library. Since Teresa’s boss is away and since she’s Assistant Public Relations Director (that will look good on her résumé), she left early.
We stopped off at the Berg Collection to see Lola Szladits, who vaguely remembered me – at first she thought I was a poet – but who was quite friendly. In fact, she smoothed down my hair and said, “May I kiss you?”
She was pleased about the publication of my book and asked if she could do anything for me or my career. “Nothing, thanks,” I said, smiling. Lola strikes me as a remarkable woman. I promised to visit her again.
Avis, Teresa and I sauntered up Fifth Avenue in the cold; the wind-chill factor was at zero degrees.
What could be more New York than Fifth Avenue at Christmastime? The crowds, the peddlers, the Santa Clauses, the shoppers, the Salvation Army bands, the traffic, the horses and hansom cabs, the bookstores, the decorated airline offices. I felt so energized by everything around us, even the nuts who talk to themselves and the pretzels-and-chestnuts men with their grimy fingernails.
At 47th Street we stopped into the Diamond Center. Teresa had something engraved for her sister, and the couple who did it, parents of a friend, charged her only a dollar.
We passed the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the angels and St. Pat’s and then crossed over to Bonwit Teller, where Teresa had to buy presents for her mother: an Anne Klein scarf and some gloves. I found a skinny madras tie for $4, and Teresa put it on her charge, which was so sweet of her.
After fooling around with the salesgirl, we went up to check out the expensive lingerie. In the elevator as we came to our floor, I called out, “Lingerie!” and people stopped to look. A man sprayed two kinds of Halston cologne on my hands. Being at Bonwit Teller was the first time in my life that Christmas shopping seemed like fun.
Walking up to Central Park South, we got a cab uptown, and at home, Teresa called in for Chinese food; it was Avis’s treat. We had dinner and drank wine and talked about everything under the sun. It was a great evening.
Teresa told Avis about this apartment she and Marilyn (who was out for the evening) shared on their visit to London, and Avis seemed ready to decide that she would live in London next: it’s a compromise between continental Europe and New York – and of course there’s Clive.
(In April she had an alcoholic blackout, and the last thing she remembered was that she and Clive were dancing on a table in a Greek restaurant and then she was in Gatwick waiting for her plane and realizing there was vomit on her shawl.)
Avis and Teresa talked about London and “awful, impossible” Paris, and I took in what they said: I want to see those places on my own someday. We reminisced, though not much, about college, and Teresa and I tried to explain to Avis the difference between the 60s and 70s mentalities in America.
Teresa’s goal is to become a Congresswoman, and I bet she can do it. People respect her, she has a way with them, and she likes politics. I think that in five or six years, Teresa could be a great politician. You can tell by the people in her building.
Jan dropped by. She’s still word-processing but plans to study in Heidelberg next fall. And Lance also came by; Teresa said he picked up every gay guy at her party. She was upset that I didn’t come or send Mikey and Mason in my place because she had “a shortage of straight men.”
I like Lance
a lot a great deal (always a bad idea to make an involuntary pun) and I sense the feeling’s mutual, that he actually likes me as a human being and not one of his innumerable sexual conquests. (I am pretty sure he has no interest in me sexually.)
Teresa’s building is fun because it seems like a college dorm filled with friends.
Avis feels she has yet to make it on her own. Helmut will be stuck in Bremen at the university another two years and she doesn’t want to stay there that long. Teresa says she’s finally discovered she can it make it alone, without anyone else.
As Avis and I took the subway back to Sheepshead Bay after 10 PM, I realized I too want to make that discovery: that I can make it alone – and I will. There’s no reason I can’t do it. I’m not trapped, except for myself, and I can go as far as I choose to.
Wednesday, December 20, 1978
3 PM. The holidays are a wonderful time when everyone gets to see each other. I feel alive in a way I haven’t since I can’t remember when. My days are filled with friends and goings-on.
The Taplinger spring catalog arrived in yesterday’s mail, so it’s official. They’re publishing mostly quality work: translations of Japanese and Brazilian novels, a history of London, a biography of Hogarth, and about six books of fiction. I don’t think my book is being slighted, either: it’s listed first among the May books in the catalog.
I got a postcard from Mendy, whom I hadn’t heard from in years. He graduated optometry school and is taking a year off to study Judaica in a Jerusalem yeshiva.
Libby sent a postcard from San Francisco as she and Grant leisurely drive their camper down the West Coast. I got Christmas cards from Janice and Ingrid, Margaret and her daughter Jennifer, and Scott – who included an impressive engraved announcement that he’s joined a prestigious law firm and will be specializing in criminal law.
When I called Avis to tell her, she said she might phone Scott tonight. Coincidentally, she had just gotten a letter addressed jointly to her and Scott from the Children’s Fund, from when they used to have a foster child together.
Avis said she was waiting for her sister and Wade to come up from Virginia on their way to Rhode Island to spend Christmas with Wade’s family in Newport.
This morning Teresa called to say she’d gotten two messages from Lola Szladits that ask me to call her. I wonder if Lola is interested in me as a writer or as a man?
Speaking of men, Michael Lally sent me a card and invited me to a New Year’s Eve party at his loft in Soho. I’ll probably go and have a terrible time, but I’d like to get to know him better, and maybe Ashbery will be there.
I phoned Ronna and asked her if she wanted to go with me, but she’s spending New Year’s Eve at home with her brother; Susan and Evan, and Alison and her fiancé Steve will be coming over.
Tonight Ronna was invited to Melvin’s birthday party by the woman Melvin lives with, but she said it’s too late for her to go, even if she went into the city with Leroy.
I spoke to Alice, who’s going to sign a contract with Scholastic Books for that roller-skating book for an advance of $2,800, which is great. Janice is getting a $3,000 advance from Simon & Schuster for her book, The Woman’s Day Book of Calligraphy.
Alice said that she got King Tut tickets from Janice, who’s now going out with a curator at the Met.
Alice also told me that Stacy phoned her to ask about the BMI workshop; Alice told her the rehearsals or auditions are not till next September.
Mason called and will be over shortly; we’re going to see if he can find an apartment to share in the Village Voice ads.
Mason said that Kathy phoned him and mentioned that Clay, Libby’s old roommate from that apartment next to SUBO, is back in town for the holidays; I didn’t know Clay well but had a terrible crush on him.
Apparently he’s now in graduate school in linguistics at Berkeley, and I wasn’t surprised that Mason said, “He’s supposed to be brilliant.”
God damn it, this is a lot better than any soap opera: all the stuff going on in the lives of my friends and acquaintances. There are so many interesting people out there, doing exciting things. If only I was up to the task of writing about them. Someday I’ll attempt it, and I’ll surely fail.
Thursday, December 21, 1978
10 PM. Many people get depressed around the holidays, but for me, it’s a chance to catch up with life, to see old friends, to relax. This has been a real vacation for me.
Last evening Ronna came over on her way home from Kings Plaza. I hadn’t had a chance to kiss her or hold her in weeks. She was wearing a crew-neck sweater, jeans and sneakers, the outfit I think she looks best in.
We kissed and held each other for half an hour without speaking; sometimes that wordlessness can be so sexy. After an hour, I drove her home, but tomorrow evening she’s free and so am I, so we’ll get more of chance to be together.
After sleeping late, I picked up Jonny at school and then went to Rockaway to pay my respects to Grandpa Herb on his 75th birthday. He’s so proud of having reached 75; neither of his parents did. I began to wonder what the world would be like on my own 75th birthday in 2026. It’s unimaginable.
When Grandpa Herb was a boy, the city was an entirely different place, much closer to the 18th century than it was to 1978. When Grandpa Herb first arrived, his father pointed out to the kids the Woolworth Building, the world’s tallest building.
We calculated that over sixty years Grandpa Herb has smoked over 600,000 cigarettes; it’s amazing he’s still alive. His weight is now 149, close to what it was when he was 30. At 50, Grandpa Herb weighed 185.
Grandma Ethel was in bed, not feeling well. She’s getting more frail, and I can’t help wondering if she’s dying from the lymphoma. (Among her holiday cards, I spotted one from Dr. Ramsey.)
I stopped off at home to have lunch and collect my mail: another story from David, Christmas cards from Terence Malley and Mrs. Judson (who says I should visit soon) and a dittoed message from Rutgers-Camden asking me to an interview at the MLA.
I took the train to LIU, where it felt so good to be back. Margaret looked wonderful at her desk, and after I kissed her, she told me she got a new car and that Jennifer and Jeremy are just fine.
Dr. Tucker congratulated me on my book, as did Terry Malley and Dr. Farber. Martin will be at the MLA Convention next week, and when I told the professors about my interviews, Dr. Farber said he didn’t envy me: “It’s a meat market.”
Al Orsini was there, and so was his girlfriend (whose name I forget . . . oh yes, Tina); she’s going for her Ph.D. at NYU and working for Bernice Braid at the UN program. I think I’ll come back tomorrow for the Christmas party.
From Nevins Street, I took the subway uptown; Wade had told me to meet him, Ellen and Avis at 5 PM at Books & Company, Burt Britton’s new store, at 74th and Madison.
And what a store: scrumptious! It’s my favorite bookstore already. There’s a wall of authors that are Burt’s favorites, constantly being replaced – and so many signed copies by Ashbery, Baumbach, Schaeffer, Spielberg, Puig, Fran Lebowitz, everyone. It hurt me so not to buy anything, but I just didn’t have the money.
Avis and the McAllisters were all tired from Christmas shopping and museum-going, so we left early, but it took us ninety minutes to get to Atlantic Avenue, so heavy was the traffic. We ate at the New Near East restaurant, a lovely Yemeni place I must try again; I had some very good chicken Georgia.
We had a great time. I love talking to Wade and Ellen, who adore living in Charlottesville. Wade has finished his course work, is studying for his orals, and teaching; Ellen is teaching a film course at UVa. If I do go to Sweet Briar, I’ll be 45 minutes away from them, and I can visit.
Ellen can get a bit pretentious about film as art, but I guess I sound the same way about literature. Anyway, it was wonderful to be able to have an intelligent conversation with people about art and culture.
Ellen and Wade said they read my stories when they visited Bremen in the spring. Avis called Helmut last night, she said, and he’s feeling better but has difficulty opening his mouth. They dropped me off at my car at the Kings Highway station, and when I got home, the rest of the family was at Grandpa Herb’s.
Saturday, December 23, 1978
5 PM. Last evening I went to Ronna’s house after dinner. As I arrived, her family was leaving, so I immediately went to Ronna’s bedroom, where we started fooling around. (“Fooling around” is a dumb expression, I know, but it’s hard to think of a better term. “Necking” sounds 1950s-ish; “making out” sounds like junior high school kids.)
Anyway, it was wonderful; I haven’t felt such sustained passion for a long time. I love Ronna’s body and feel comfortable with her, yet surprisingly, the passion is still there.
Last night I couldn’t get enough of her: her ass, her breasts (which seem to be getting bigger), her beautiful smile. She has a lovely nape of the neck; I like to uncover the hair there and kiss her. And I like to lie in bed and have my body touched and fondled.
After about two hours of foreplay, I had an incredible orgasm. Then we just sat up in bed, naked, talking to each other about silly and important things. Ronna had a little stomach trouble, so I went to the living room and watched TV, waiting until she got dressed and joined me.
Sitting on the couch, we watched the news and Dick Cavett and A Hard Day’s Night. I left just after her family returned from seeing Superman, around 1 AM. In my own bed, I masturbated twice, and it was so sweet. Sometimes it’s nice to keep forcing myself to have orgasms; it’s almost peaceful, and I like that.
When Mason came over this morning, I hadn’t finished getting dressed. When I did, I accompanied him to look at an apartment on Ocean Avenue and H. It was in an old building, but it was light and cheery, and for $160 a month, it was large: two big rooms.
Mason will probably take it. He called up his friend Ruthie, whom he was going out with after he broke up with Libby – Stacy introduced the two of them – and we went over to Ruthie’s place on East 28th Street between Avenue I and the railroad tracks.
Ruthie is a very together woman, a fourth grade teacher in Crown Heights from an Orthodox background. She had other guests: Franny, another teacher in her school, and a 13-year-old girl, whom I first thought was an adult midget and so tried not to stare at.
We had camomile tea – I told Ruthie, who’s also a dirty blonde, that she could use it as a hair rinse, as I do – and Mason and I brought in some really good pizza from this place on Avenue J; it was almost as good as Ray’s.
(The other night, I passed Ray’s with Avis, Ellen and Wade, who didn’t know what it was. But Ray’s is now a New York institution, and I must put it in a story.)
Mason drove me home, and then he and Ruthie were going to the Brooklyn Museum. In the mail, I found two new stories in – get this – The Westbere Review and The Webster Review; it’s always good to see my newest work in print.
And the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts approved my stay at Sweet Briar from July 11 to September 11, so I can have a summer away from New York. It will probably be a great experience for me, and now that I know that the McAllisters will be nearby in Charlottesville, I feel even better about it.
I went over to Ronna’s for a while and drove her to that last-shopping-day madhouse called Kings Plaza. Ronna is spending tomorrow at a Christmas Eve celebration with John’s parents in Weehawken, and on Monday, Phil is coming from Pennsylvania into the city to be with her.
Ed Hogan of Aspect phoned: he was typesetting Susan Lloyd McGarry’s article on me and needed some autobiographical information. His double fiction issue of Aspect should be great, with stories by Crad Kilodney, Pete Cherches, me, and other writers, along with criticism and a small-press checklist. (He’s including Taplinger, which took up my suggestion to subscribe to Aspect.)
Avis called, wanting to do something tomorrow night. We’ll see what we can pull together. While I was out, Scott called; Avis said she hasn’t been able to get in touch with him all week.