Wednesday, October 11, 1978
7 PM as Yom Kippur ends. It was a glorious day to be in Brooklyn. Giovanni da Verrazano wrote in his journal of “this pleasant place situated among certain little hills, from amidst which there runs down to the sea an exceeding great stream.”
In this new magazine Brooklyn, I read an article by Rob Edelman on all the movies about Brooklyn, from King Vidor’s The Crowd to Saturday Night Fever and the forthcoming Boardwalk.
Also, there was an article about the NBC studio on Avenue M, where they film my favorite soap opera, Another World. When the building was a Vitagraph film studio, Rudolph Valentino worked there as an extra for a day and Leon Trotsky made $7 a day there as a set designer.
And in 1954, NBC filmed two series there, including Gene Lockhart as His Honor Homer Bell; they used Midwood High School as the exterior of Judge Bell’s courthouse and LaGuardia Hall as the town hall. There should be a story or poem in all of this.
Last evening Alice phoned. She came back from Europe two days early and had tried to return even earlier but got stranded for a couple of days in Luxembourg, where there was nothing to do but see junk movies like Coma and The Swarm.
The best part of the trip was her visit with her brother, who took her all over Iceland. Paris was not as exciting as it had been for Alice; she didn’t meet anyone except “a lot of creepy Arabs crawling around.”
Tonight Alice left for Miami Beach, where she’ll be covering a conference on teenage unemployment sponsored by Burger King. Alice has never been to Miami before and I was in the rare position of telling Avis the lowdown on a new city. She’s even staying at the Carillon.
Last night, after dinner, I went to Ronna’s to help her with her résumé. She’s finally getting her act together and will look for work at newspapers in the Northeast. Alison was just leaving as I arrived, and Sue was prancing around.
Ronna and I sat on the living room couch and held each other and kissed. Writing this sounds so banal. For the first time in years, she said “I love you” to me without my saying it first.
We made out like crazy for hours, but I didn’t think it was cool to have sex in the living room with other people in the house, so I left at 1 AM.
“We both know what we’re going to do when we get into bed,” Ronna said. I don’t know about her, but I had an incredible orgasm; I never felt the semen spurt out with such force. I felt absolutely wonderful and fell asleep and had a dream about space travel in which I was dizzyingly flying out past Saturn and Uranus. It was very eerie.
Today I woke up late but took care of a lot of errands. I got my insurance card ticket dismissed, took a haircut, xeroxed my dossier, went to the bank, and on the way I managed to take a ride through Prospect Park and enjoy the Indian summer weather.
Thursday, October 12, 1978
6 PM. I’ve been feeling very irritable today. Little things have been getting on my nerves – such as all my pens running dry as this one is doing.
Yesterday I got a letter from Bobby Mahoney, whose Voice ad I answered a couple of weeks back. Bobby is 25; I had to go to the library to remember his ad. It turns out he’s “straight,” but is interested in “trying something new.”
I called him this afternoon and he seemed very nervous, as if I was about to rape him over the telephone. He works at Random House as an editorial assistant and Wants To Write though I don’t think he actually does write.
But I shouldn’t be so sarcastic. Anyway, I tried to arrange a meeting with him (he asked for something “very casual – over coffee or a drink”), but he said this week was no good and he’ll get back to me next week.
He sounds like a nice guy, but I won’t ever hear from him; he’s too scared. Damn it, I’m not scared anymore – not of being myself and not of telling the truth.
Do you know how hard it is to convince 17-year-olds that clichés are bad? For years they’ve heard nothing but clichés and now they look on an original phrase – or an original thought – as something to avoid like the plaque (dental plaque, that is). Maybe I’ll read some Edward Field or Michael Lally poetry as an antidote.
I suppose I’m too hard on my students. They’ve young, not sure of themselves, and it’s risky for them to be themselves. I’m not so young anymore; I may not know what I’m doing, but I know who I am and don’t have time to make excuses.
I was at the gas station filling up when Nestor, Marc’s friend who used to be a creepy drug addict, came over and told me how much he enjoyed “Bartleby the Scrivener,” which he’d just read. We talked about it – I told him I’d taught it this past summer – and I began to like Nestor for the first time.
People can and do change. Carl Rogers thinks we ultimately progress, and I’d like to believe that. Maybe I’m angry because I know what I’d like to do (edit my book, return to therapy, get my own apartment, be more adventurous sexually) and am not doing it. It looks as though I’m refusing to take responsibility.
Friday, October 13, 1978
4 PM. It’s a lovely, bright afternoon. The weekend is upon me, and this is always the best part of the weekend: the anticipation of it. I hope – no, I am determined – to begin editing the book for Wes this weekend.
Tonight I’m seeing Ronna but I have no plans for Saturday and Sunday, and I don’t have much schoolwork to do.
Five weeks at Kingsborough have gone by, and I’m starting to feel at home there. I’ve begun to like my students and even managed to have a good time in class today. They may be stupid but they’re nice; I haven’t given them much of a break.
Last night on public TV, they were showing a documentary featuring interviews with 25 gay men and women of all types. I think one of the filmmakers was the friend of Skip’s, Artie, who came to Brooklyn College several years ago.
I remember he showed two films, about Vietnam and a San Francisco gay pride parade. Afterwards I went out to lunch at The Pub with him, Skip, Mason and Libby, Vito and Joey. It was such a pleasant time.
If I do go to see Mrs. Ehrlich – and I may – one of the things I will tell her is that I’ve come to accept my gayness as something natural, a part of me. It does take a long time. I see that guys like Bill-Dale and Bobby Mahoney haven’t yet accepted themselves sexually, so I feel ahead of them.
After the film, I watched an episode of Family where a young couple decides not to remarry because, while they love each other, they cannot make a go out of it as a husband and wife. It made me cry. I love Ronna, I care so much for her – too much to attempt to hold onto her.
If that’s true, why am I seeing her tonight? Because I want to, I guess, and because it’s her half-birthday. Six years ago, on another Friday the 13th, before we were going together, I sent her a birthday card ripped in half. I want to do the same tonight.
But maybe I’m not being fair to her. She knows all about my proclivities – I love that that word is never used except when referring to homosexuality – and says it doesn’t matter. Still, my continuing to see her may be bad for her.
I love Ronna more than I could love any woman, but I think I could love a man more deeply; anyway, I’d like to try to find out. It would be nice if Bobby called.
I care for Ronna a lot more than I care for our relationship – she’s my friend – and I would prefer her not seeing me to her being hurt by me. I feel as though I’m taking and taking from her and not giving enough in return.
I suppose it’s not my responsibility to worry about Ronna not getting enough out of our relationship. She‘d tell me, wouldn’t she, if she was dissatisfied? Mostly we’re friends.
This morning in the shower I decided that I’m not at all worried about growing old. Sometimes I think the nicest time of life is just after 50 when, like Dad or Edward Field, you’ve passed your mid-life crisis and at last feel comfortable with yourself.
Saturday, October 14, 1978
10 PM. Any day when your muffler falls out of your car in Chinatown isn’t exactly a great day. I went into Manhattan to see the Assembling Assembling exhibit at the Pratt Graphics Center; it wasn’t anything much, and my contribution looked stupid.
I was driving back to Brooklyn on the FDR Drive when I decided I would exit at South Street and get the Manhattan Bridge. (It was the first time I’d ever done that, and superstitious me won’t do it again.) I started hearing a noise when I accelerated, and then – clunk – on Division Street my muffler dropped, bending the rear out of shape as I dragged it.
I took it to a gas station where they cut it off and I drove home via Flatbush Avenue very noisily. On Monday I’ll bring it in to Bob. It needs a whole new system and will probably cost a fortune. My car is falling apart; I don’t know how much longer I can keep it patched together.
Getting to Kingsborough by public transportation will be a pain in the ass – and with Dad and Marc gone, there’ll be no car for Mom, either (nor Jonny).
Today was my Friday the 13th, but I’m trying not to let it get to me. I didn’t get to edit my manuscript today, nor do I think I can do it tonight. Is it a kind of writer’s block? Am I deliberately avoiding getting my book together? Because I’m afraid of success? Because I resent Wes’s suggestions?
Last evening Ronna and I went to see a late movie at Kings Plaza. Beforehand we talked about her career and how she’s got to get her shit together; so far, she’s just been playing at wanting to be a reporter and doing nothing about it.
I told her she’s not informed enough; she doesn’t know half the things I know about what’s going on in the press. She says I’ve helped her more than anyone through this rough period for her.
Ronna doesn’t see Susan much because of Evan, and she resents Alison’s constant presence. Alison was watching the World Series with Mrs. C and Billy when I arrived. Ronna’s mother can’t stand Alison’s nasal whining, but Alison doesn’t know that.
She’s your basic fuck-up; gave out the wrong address, for example, to her mother, boyfriend and the movers bringing a couch. In this respect, she makes Ronna look like a Miss Preparedness.
After the film (Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? , which was mildly amusing), Ronna and I came back to my basement, where I told her what I was feeling about our relationship.
She said she was satisfied with the way it is going and doesn’t expect anything more; if she does want something deeper – or different, anyway – she’ll look elsewhere.
We made love and it was very pleasant, warm and tender, if not particularly passionate. Ronna got more out of it than I did, although I’m not complaining.
It’s very nice to hug and kiss and lick and hold and lie next to Ronna, and I would love to be able to spend the night with her. I like her ass, her breasts, and I’d say I liked her cunt if I could bring myself to use that word.
As I wrote yesterday, Ronna is everything I’d want in a woman – beautiful, caring, intelligent, independent, funny – but she isn’t a guy. And if I think a man will be better, or at least different – then, as Ronna told me, it’s my responsibility to find one.
It was very nostalgic to be in my basement with Ronna till 2:30 AM, and to drive her home at that wonderfully alive dead hour.
I gave her a ripped half-birthday card, similar to the one I gave her six years ago, on another Friday, October 13th. We are good and old friends who share a great deal. But I am not the man for Ronna, and Ronna is not the man for me.
She went to New Jersey this weekend, to spend a day with Phil at Princeton and then to visit John at Rutgers.
Cousin Wendy called today, asking for my English-teacherly help on an essay she’s writing for her application to the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania. It must be nice to be 17 and applying to colleges.
Today I began to edit the stories for Wes. It went more quickly and more painlessly than I had expected
Monday, October 16, 1978
7 PM. Last evening I watched the Yankees clobber the Dodgers. They now need one game to win the Series. I had some trouble falling asleep and didn’t get up until 9:30 AM this morning.
Dad took my car into Bob’s station earlier, so I had to call car service to get to school. (I decided a taxi would be worth it.)
Before leaving, I finished the minor editing on my stories for the collection. Now I’ve just got to completely rewrite a few stories: “Uncle Irving,” “Go Not to Lethe,” “The Mother in My Bedroom.”
I taught my 12:40 PM class fairly well, going over simple and compound subjects. Rosa Cordero is getting a bit too friendly with me. I think she misunderstood my interest in her classwork as something personal.
She told me she talks about me to her mother all the time, and started to tell me something, then said, “I’d better not. . . It’s too personal.”
God, she may be in love with me! What a revolting thought: to be loved by a near-moron. I’d better be more distant with her; all I wanted was to stop her from disrupting the class. A month ago she used to burst into laughter at the sight of me.
I worked out a schedule for the English 11 class, and I’ve pretty much got the rest of the term under control. There were notices in our mailboxes about final exams, so you know the term’s beginning to end – at least psychologically.
Our adjunct payroll is this Friday, November 17, and January 5. I still don’t know how much my checks will be.
After a lesson in paragraph development, I grabbed a taxi home and got here by 4:15 PM. The new pope, John Paul II, is the first non-Italian in 450 years; he’s a relatively young Polish cardinal who appears to be intelligent and firm.
You know what’s beginning to scare me? I think I’m writing like my students. Recently these diary entries have become boring, banal, and awkwardly composed. I need a dose of good writing, of something really sharp, where every word is the right word.
Late last night I was thinking about my diaries. Maybe I should end the practice of recording my thoughts every day. Perhaps it’s come to the point where it detracts from my “creative,” “public” writing. I would like to go on to August 1, 1979, and finish out a decade.
Isn’t it an accomplishment to have recorded a whole decade – the Seventies – in these weird red books? It has definitely been an influence on the way I write, and on the way I view the world.
Giving equal space to each day make me feel that there are no real turning points, that both bad times and good times pass, that life is to be lived in day-tight compartments (I remember that phrase from Dale Carnegie, whom I read in high school).
I look on my life – and the lives of my family and friends, and on history – as a kind of adventure, a blank page to be filled in at a later date. I’m not that scared of life anymore; like a soap opera, it always seems to continue, no matter what.
Alice phoned a little while ago. The rooms and the food at the Carillon were to her liking, and she had an affair with her first black man, a wealthy Oklahoman, 30, who’s been married four times.
The conference was pretty boring and it will be a miracle if she can get a story out of it. Alice has decided to stay at Seventeen for another few months before she begins actively job-hunting again.
I discussed my own career plans with her. She thinks I’m crazy to apply for jobs outside New York, and to be truthful, I’m not sure I want to be in New Orleans or Tucson or Houston for a year.
The job would have to be a very good one – I wouldn’t want to teach just comp courses – and the money would have to be good.
Tuesday, October 17, 1978
5 PM on a bright, chilly afternoon. You can just feel winter lurking ahead.
I’ve discovered how to add hours to the day: turn off the TV. It’s incredible how I used to waste evening after evening plunked down in front of the tube. Maybe one of the reasons I felt so good at Bread Loaf was because there was no TV there.
I hate being a TV addict, filling up my mind with air. In our house, the first thing we do in the morning is to turn on the TV and at night the last thing we do is to turn it off.
Most people in America live like that, I would imagine. When my students described their rooms, each of them mentioned their TV set; a couple of them said it was the most important object in the room.
Last night I read Michael Lally’s books; I think he’s super, although sometimes I don’t “get” his poems. I have a sensibility similar to his, especially when it comes to sexuality. He is a gay man who falls in love with women as well as boys – that’s how I see myself, too.
The letter I sent him was kind of a come-on; I wrote that I used to have a crush on him but now that I’m mature, I just respect him. I think I would like to have a relationship with him.
I enclosed “Go Not to Lethe” and of course I hope he’ll be so charmed he will want to meet me.
Two encouraging rejections came in today’s mail, and to me that’s always better than nothing.
I called Wes at his apartment, purposely getting his answering machine (he has a tape on which he talks like a hood trying to sell his record collection, as on TV) so that it’s now his turn to call me. I’m very embarrassed about this book project; I still half-believe that they’re putting me on.
My classes went well today, though I’m a bit hoarse. When I got back, I had to sign my observation report; I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb stopped by this morning on their way home from NYU Hospital. According to her doctor, Grandma Ethel is making excellent progress and the cancer is retreating or whatever the proper word is.
The new health-food diet she’s on is making her crazy. She doesn’t understand why she’s eating all these strange foods, and sometimes makes horrendous mistakes; for example, her doctor told her to drink fruit juices, so she bought Hi-C and Hawaiian Punch – which are nothing but sugar, water and Red Dye #2.
Taking 31 vitamin and mineral tablets a day is too much for her to handle, and she doesn’t know how to prepare foods organically. At 68, she’s changing a lifetime’s eating habits and it isn’t easy. Grandpa Herb, from whom Mom gets her compulsiveness, doesn’t like the change in his lifestyle, either.
Last night I called Vito at the Abbey-Victoria newsstand. He feels he isn’t going to get anywhere as an actor; I don’t know if he tries hard enough, but I’m sure it’s an even tougher field to break into than writing.
“If my biggest news is that I’ve got cable TV,” Vito told me, “my life can’t be going too well.”
Seven years ago today was the day Shelli and I broke up, the last day I slept with her, the day I learned she was having an affair with Jerry. The same chill is in the air today, I feel the same dry throat, my hands feel a similar roughness.
I dislike this in-between weather: 45° is too cool to be comfortable outside and not cold enough to make me feel energetic.
Wednesday, October 18, 1978
7 PM. It’s night out already. In another two weeks Daylight Savings Time will end and it will start to get dark at 5 PM or so. We’re heading into winter. I feel tired after teaching two classes a day for three days straight.
While I now have the respect of my students and the behavior problems are minimal, I still feel enervated after teaching without a day of rest to keep me going.
But I’m doing this for the money, plain and simple. I have to constantly remind myself that the term will end in mid-December and I’ll have two months free.
My classes are in the middle of the day, and while I’m spared having to get up early, there’s not enough time in the morning to get any real writing done. And when I get home, there’s only an hour before dinner, and after that I’m tired. Of course tomorrow I don’t have to be at Kingsborough until 3 PM.
Wes phoned me back last night and we agreed to meet Saturday afternoon to discuss things further. I won’t permit myself to believe that Taplinger is actually going to publish the book; I’m sure Louis Strick would rather hold off until something more substantial comes along.
But I like Wes, and the whole thing is an interesting experience. Eventually somebody will publish my book; I have faith in myself.
This morning two copies of the spring (!) issue of Texas Quarterly arrived. It’s a large, beautifully-bound magazine, rather stuffy and intellectual, but this credit will do me good in academia.
Certainly “I, Eliza Custis” is nothing like Disjointed Fictions; it’s the opposite of experimental, and Kostelanetz, Klinkowitz, and Baumbach would all hate it.
But I read it during my break today, and I think it’s good in one respect: I’ve managed to create (of course I had the help of some material – or did I plagiarize?) a character totally different from myself, a character one cares about, not a trick, not an illusion.
By the way, Klinkowitz wrote me that his design editor, Roy Behrens, sent the original of “Innovations” to Baumbach. Now Jon has the only copy, and I’m sure he won’t return it.
The only other copy I had I sent to Ed Hogan at Aspect, and if I don’t get that back, the story has been lost. The Lord works in mysterious ways; maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
I spoke to Ronna last night and we made plans for Friday evening. She had a marvelous weekend in New Jersey.
She and Phil visited various friends in Princeton, and on Sunday she, Susan and John had a chicken dinner, during the course of which Ronna told John she was in love with him and he asked her if I would consider sleeping with him, too. (I told her to tell him I might.)
During the night I had this dream: Avis – or maybe Ronna – had to do a report on homosexuality. Scott drove us around on a Sunday night following a party and we found that the Mill Basin branch of the public library had its lights on.
It wasn’t open, but Reva – Scott’s old Orthodox girlfriend from before I introduced him to Avis – and her husband were using the library as their home and they let us in. We reminisced about our college days, Reva asked me if I was a writer, and Avis/Ronna studied various documents.
Then an elderly man approached Reva and asked her if the library had any books by Richard Grayson. I grinned. “There are two other Richard Graysons,” I explained, “and both of them are writers. I tell people their books are mine, and they probably do the same with my work.”
I haven’t analyzed the dream, but it feels very significant, touching on the major issues in my present life.
This autumn of 1978 is taking on a rhythm of its own as I adjust to my routine. It’s still an adventure, anyway.
Thursday, October 19, 1978
Noon. I woke up this morning with terrible gripping stomach pains, the kind I used to get every few months – probably it’s too much gas. So I’ve been lying quietly. At the moment the house is empty except for me.
Why haven’t I looked for an apartment yet? Because I do not want to move out. It’s hard enough for me to get time for my writing, and if I had my own place, I’d have to cook, shop, clean, do the laundry and a million other time-consuming (that’s not a cliché – I mean it in its literal sense, devouring) chores which would take up the little time I have.
Last night I spent with my books: what a joy. Reading alone, I feel more alive and in contact with reality than I ever do in the classroom. I wish there were NEA Reading Fellowships; I’d like nothing better than to take a year off and read, read, read. I see why writers’ colonies are needed.
I’m going to apply to Provincetown again and maybe to a couple of other places. I need big blocks of time, and now I don’t have that. I’ve proven that I can be very productive when I have the time – as I was this July, for example, when there were no outside pressures. I want my work to mature.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “innovative fiction” and how it almost seems to be a dead end. I mean, there just aren’t that many ways to innovate, are there?
I’m a writer who was brought up on and taught post-modern fiction writing, and most of my work has been non-traditional – but it’s also been self-conscious, precious, self-indulgent, form without substance. Right now I want to get back to telling stories; that seems the most important thing.
Jonny wrote a satirical essay for school on “How to Commit Suicide,” and I gave him The Savage God to read. But Jonny is doing very well; he’s not agoraphobic like I was. Last night he took the Cadillac to Bergen Beach and went out with his friends.
My car is falling apart: the heater doesn’t work, the shocks need to be welded, oil leaks out daily, and I get strange knocking noises when I make turns.
I remember the first day I got that car: it was a shiny god and smelled that fabulous new car smell. I drove it out to Staten Island, and it was a joy. I found Ronna in Clove Lake Park with those kids from Red Hook she was tutoring. Those days seem idyllic now, and in fact, they were.
The only regret I have about my college years is that I cannot live them all over again. The four years I spent as an undergraduate were the happiest, most carefree years of my life.
I savored them, but if I had only known that life isn’t all college (if you know what I mean), they would have been more precious to me.
Although now I am more sure of myself, I miss the innocence of my college days – not moral innocence, but the innocence of what it means to be an adult. I’m resisting being an adult even this minute.
(Peter Pan: “I don’t wanna grow up, I don’t wanna go to school.” And I don’t; I’m thinking about calling in sick today.)
Oo, my stomach hurts. Last night Gary told me about all the problems Betty’s been having with her stomach: nausea, acidity, pain. She’s been to doctors, but they can find nothing physically wrong with her. Gary and I know it’s probably emotional, but as Gary said, “You still have to alleviate the symptoms.”
Pseudo-profound thought: Maybe life is a symptom. And it needs to be alleviated. Da-de-dum.
Friday, October 20, 1978
6 PM. I’m tired after a full week. I’m glad I prevailed upon Ronna to meet me in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan tonight. My stomach felt much better by yesterday afternoon, and I was able to teach my class.
I talked to my freshman students about how they feel about Kingsborough after half a term; most of them see it as an extension of high school. I do like them after all, and the affection is mutual.
Even with the more difficult English 23 class today, I’m able to get through at times. So I am a good teacher; it just took time to win confidence in myself at a new school.
The second half of the term should be easier. Today I got paid, which cheered me up immensely: $671.63 (about $200 was taken out in taxes). I now have nearly $900 in my bank account, more than I ever have had.
And four weeks from today, I get paid again, and by then I should go over the $1,000 mark for the first time.
Today I also cashed a $25 check from Bernhard Frank of Buckle. He thought my piece on Susan Fromberg Schaeffer was “a joy.” She liked it too, apparently.
I’m pleased to know I can write non-fiction well (though I always knew I could) and that if Baumbach hates me, I have a friend in Susan.
George wrote me an incredibly delightful weird letter, ranting on and on about my bright future in the world of literature. I’ve spent much of my spare time in the past two weeks catching up on correspondence.
David wrote from Maine, thanking me for helping him with his story. I advised him to send it to Sue Stephens of Tailings, and she accepted it: his first publication. I’m really glad I could help.
Sue herself sent me a letter asking for help in getting Tailings distributed; I’ll see if I can get Laurie to stock it in the Eighth Street Bookshop.
Last night I wrote letters to Tom Whalen, Tom Person, George (in two weeks I should be in Harrisburg), Brian Robertson (who’s got a writer/teacher position with the Texas Arts Council and who’s starting a newspaper humor column), Bernhard Frank (advising him to change the last line of my profile of Susan, which he thought was too gushy), and Douglas Messerli of Sun & Moon (I re-subscribed; my “Clumsy Story” will be in the next issue, now at the typesetters).
Yesterday I got a rejection which said, “Your work always leaves me with a haunting feeling. Sometimes you seem satisfied with mediocrity, and other times you’re brilliant – as in that story about the family [“Wednesday Night at Our House”] . . .”
The editor was right, of course. Maybe it’s all to the good that I’m not producing a story a week now. But how it surprises me when people are familiar with my “work.” Another rejection said, “…but congratulations on Disjointed Fictions.” There are people out there who know who I am.
The funniest letter of the past two days was addressed to Mom. Remember that dippy Miss Louise T. Reynolds of the new renaissance and how I got back at her for her stupid letter by writing in Mom’s name that I’d died? Well, last spring I had “Mom” send her “late son’s story, ‘Coping,’” to the new renaissance.
Today Mom got a flowery letter announcing its acceptance and publication in the spring 1980 issue. They’re giving me (or my mother, rather) $40 for the story.
I wrote back in Mom’s name thanking Miss Reynolds and telling her that she, Mom, was now writing stories under the pen name Richard Grayson “as a tribute to my late son.”
This has to be the best literary hoax I’ve done. Of course, by spring 1980 I might very well be dead, and then the joke will be on me.