Saturday, June 23, 1979
8 PM. I had more pleasant dreams last night, dreams of accomplishment and fulfillment, and I’m still feeling good.
I think I’ve turned the corner on my depression. Today, in my session with Dr. Pasquale, I told him that now that I’ve experienced the reality of Albany, I see it isn’t so fearsome. Things also seem to be going more my way now. Since May, it’s been one setback after another, but now I feel optimistic.
This morning I went to the Junction and xeroxed the four stories that have come out in little magazines in the last month, as well as items for my scrapbook: the Voice letter (under mine was one from Eliot Fremont-Smith; I guess he’ll remember me), the Aspect leaflet mentioning my work, the bad reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal, the notice in Gargoyle, the “congratulations” in the Mill Basin Civic News.
When I got back home, Alice called. “Remember you telling me about your letter about saving pets from Skylab when it falls?” she asked. “Listen to this.” She read a letter from her brother in Reykjavik in which he said he’d heard my “article” being read over Armed Forces Radio in Iceland!
I can’t imagine how it got there. Alice figures my letter must have been printed in one of the papers and then was picked up by the wire services. Incredible. I must find out what’s happening.
I’ve been looking for it these past two weeks in the Times, News and Post, but I didn’t see it; I suppose it’s possible I missed it. You’d think someone would have called me – but then, no one did when my “Tales of New York” story appeared in the Post.
So I’ll have to search out back issues of the newspapers in the library. See, it’s as though everything I touch turns to gold.
Today’s mail brought official confirmation of my candidacy for Vice President by the Federal Election Commission. I’ve been assigned FEC Identification Number P00000851.
Yesterday Harriet van Horne had an article on the weird candidates, but it mentioned that the only candidate for Vice President was Ray Rollinson, a poet from Yonkers. Naturally, I wrote Van Horne informing her of her error.
When I went to the drugstore to fill a prescription, Mr. Deutsch told me his daughter wants to read more of my stuff. I told him about the book, and he said I should get him a copy and he’d be glad to pay the $7.95 if I autograph it. I’ve got to get copies from Taplinger and sell them myself.
Dr. Pasquale and I had an extremely productive session; we both enjoyed it. I talked about my work and my family and my difficulties in expressing anger. I guess he doesn’t often get a brilliant patient like me, someone he can discuss depersonalization with.
After the session, I was in such a good mood that I dropped in to see Ronna, who seemed really glad to see me. She said she’d called several times this week and got no answer.
Ronna quit her job and will leave Metro at the end of July. She’s relieved and said she’ll now get on her toes about job-hunting. I helped her move some heavy furniture; now that her sister has moved out, Ronna and her mother are switching rooms. Ronna also mentioned that Alison left this week for Michigan, with her father and Steve coming in to take her back to Bay City.
Tonight Ronna was going out on a double date with Susan and Evan (who have gotten engaged) and this guy Jordan, who called while I was there.
When I saw Ronna, I knew there was still an attraction between us, but I want to – and Ronna does – keep it at bay. I need to let her go and explore relationships with other guys like Jordan, whom she seems to like. Ronna and I did hug tightly when I left.
When Alice phoned, she couldn’t talk long but said she enjoyed Mexico and didn’t get sick once. She wanted to know if it’s all right if she makes me a farewell party before I go to Albany. I was thrilled at the idea; Alice is such a good friend.
Sunday, June 24, 1979
6 PM on a clear, cool day. Last night I called Pete Cherches; he’s always up on everything, and I figured he’d know where my letter about protecting pets from Skylab appeared, and he did. Gordon Taylor told him it was in the Post sometime last week. I’ll have to go through back issues to find it.
Pete said Ken Bernard sent him some funny pieces in response to Pete’s request for material. Ken can be very good at those little pieces. Pete is tutoring at Brooklyn College now, preparing students for the old CUNY Writing Assessment Test.
Pete said he’s waiting to hear if Zonepress got the NEA grant they’ve applied for. In response, I read Pete parts of Eric Baizer’s Literaturegate newsletter on the NEA; Eric is having a “Name the NEA Literature Fellowship Winners” contest. I’m not a friend (nor an enemy) of anyone on the panel.
Of course the manuscripts are screened by former NEA winners, and who knows, I could get Doctorow. I do fantasize about getting the $10,000, but I don’t think my chances are good.
This morning I thought of writing an Op-Ed piece for the Times about my being a Vice Presidential candidate: why I filed, how it feels, etc. I jotted down some tentative notes before going out and driving (on this gasless Sunday) into Greenwich Village.
Today’s Gay Pride parade was to begin at noon, and this year I didn’t want to miss it. When I spotted Alice on the street near her apartment, I greeted her with a big hug and kiss. She took me upstairs, where her friend Carmen, a very pretty “natural” woman and artist, has been staying since she got in from Boulder last night.
Carmen hopes to stay in New York and go to Parsons to study environmental design. She’s divorced and into vegetarianism and natural foods, so she should be a good influence on Alice, who is a junk food junkie.
We drank tea and sat around the kitchen table, then watched the parade march across Waverly Place; Alice’s ninth-floor window gave us a great view. Of course we were literally above it all, and I wanted to get closer, so I left, drove uptown and joined the parade as it was about to enter Central Park.
My first step in the street joining the marchers was tentative, but I soon felt at ease. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place in my life. It was dizzying to encounter that size crowd and mind-boggling to realize that all of them, men and women, were gay.
There were banners for various organizations: Gay Fathers, Lesbians Against Nuclear Power, Gay People at Princeton, Gay Deaf, Capital District Lesbians, Gay Catholics, Parents of Gays and people holding placards from every major city.
There were guys in drag on roller skates and conservative-looking old men in suits. Many of the men looked gay, whatever that means, but I reached the banal conclusion that lesbians and gays are as varied a group as it’s possible to be.
Unlike the mostly lily-white demonstrators against the Vietnam War, today’s march included many blacks and Hispanics.
We massed in the Sheep Meadow, about 100,000 of us, and listened to some brief speeches and music. There was food, there was pot, there were a lot of smiles and very little anger.
(One idiot shouted, “Yeah, but what about the mayor of Los Angeles?” and no one knew what he meant until someone said, “He means Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk in San Francisco, the nerd.”)
I was moved, as I think was everyone there – from the people completely out of the closet to those people who are still very uptight – by the sheer numbers.
Ten years ago was the Stonewall riot and the start of gay liberation. I remember being 18 and scared about being gay that summer and reading about the Stonewall Inn in the Village Voice.
One thing that struck me was that there seemed to be very little cruising, which made it seem like the reason for the march actually had very little to do with sex.
Monday, June 25, 1979
4 PM. It’s a beautiful day, sunny and cool.
When I got in last evening, Mom asked me, “Are you still friendly with Ivan Pollack?”
“Why do you want to know?” I said suspiciously.
It seems that there was a menswear show in Florida last week, and Irv Littman met a guy who’s looking for someone to sell his line in Florida. Irv told Chet Pollack, Ivan’s brother, “I’ve got the man you want.”
Dad was supposed to call Chet today. I’m not crazy about the idea. Recently I learned that Ivan moved away, and I haven’t thought about him or his family for a long time. On Saturday, Ronna did mention that she and Jordan bumped into Ivan’s old friend John, now a physicist, at Kings Plaza.
I guess I just wanted to put my obsession with Ivan’s family and their wealth out of my mind. (Ironically, when I picked up the Class Notes today, the first item I saw was that Mona’s husband David is now running his own investment counseling firm. It’s like I can’t escape the Pollacks.)
I would prefer Dad not be beholden to Ivan’s family for his livelihood. The job probably won’t happen anyway; it would be too much like a bad novel.
Last night I wrote a long-overdue letter to Chris and fell asleep early. I kept seeing yesterday’s Gay Pride marchers filing past in all my dreams.
This morning was Jonny’s graduation from high school, and Jonny and Mom and Dad all had left for Manhattan before I woke up. I have three-quarters of a tank of gasoline and won’t have to (or be able to) get gas until next Wednesday, an “odd” day. But few service stations are open, and there are three-hour lines around those that are, so naturally I did as little driving as possible.
I went to the Alumni Association, where I organized the Class Notes. I do like recording the comings and goings of people’s lives. Apart from David Morris, there were a few names I recognized: Steven Proctor, ’73, an acquaintance of Vito’s, is a dentist in New Jersey; Sharon Robbins Sobel, ’73, is living in Amsterdam; and Harry Goldman, ’71, was promoted to associate professor at Florida State.
Elaine told me that she and Maddy wanted to print “Hitler” in the Alumni Bulletin but weren’t sure whether it would offend people. (Hey, look at that sentence again, Mr. Writer. You make it sound as if they wanted to offend the alumni.)
The front-page story in the Sunday Times yesterday related the behind-the-scenes struggles that led to the appointment of Robert Hess to replace John Kneller as Brooklyn College president: it detailed amazing petty politics in action.
While we’re on the subject of petty politics, Ira Harkavy withdrew as a candidate for Civil Court Judge, so now our Bulletin printing schedule is relaxed because we don’t have to come out in time for primary day.
After leaving the Alumni office, I went to the library, where I found my “Skylab Watch” letter in the Post of Saturday, June 9; they put it in a box and said I was from Manhattan. But how did the story get on Armed Forces Radio?
The mail brought my first substantial acceptance in a long time: Roger Greenwald is taking “With the Pope in Park Slope” for Writ #11. And Jonny, as treasurer of the Richard Grayson for Vice President Political Action Committee, got an acknowledgment from the FEC and an official identification number.
I took $95.40, put it in my checking account, and made out a check to Taplinger for twenty copies of my book at a 40% discount. Money is getting to be a real problem.
It’s midnight. An hour ago, I was reading Matthew Arnold in bed when the phone rang. It was Vito, calling from work at the Abbey-Victoria newsstand.
“Richard,” he said, “did you know you’re in Liz Smith’s column?”
“Yeah, the News just came in . . . she put you right under a picture of Ann-Margaret, and she put your name in dark letters, like you’re important. Listen:”
And Vito read the column item:
BABY RAVE: While Steve Martin’s “Cruel Shoes” is going through the roof in book sales, let me point out another really funny book of short stories published at the same time, titled “With Hitler in New York.” These tales by Richard Grayson are populated by Farrah Fawcett-Major, Sarah Lawrence of Arabia, Abe Lincoln and Hitler, to name a few.
I read Richard’s book after the 27-year-old author wrote me a letter. “I live with my parents in Brooklyn. We are very poor, but we are honest and good and gossip-minded people.” How could I resist?
I was so stunned that I had Vito repeat the item, and still, I couldn’t believe it! Everyone reads Liz Smith! God bless her; I always knew she was a doll.
My brain was so rattled, I could hardly carry on an intelligent conversation with Vito, so he finally let me get off; he had to go home anyway, but first he said he wanted to call his mother and read the column item to her.
I called Wesley, who had just carried a tired Marla into the bedroom. He was gratified, of course, and he also had some news for me.
At the ABA, his father made several contacts. He’s contracted with a PR agent, Eileen Prescott – who’s been touted as the best in the business by Eliot Fremont-Smith in a recent column – to work on getting reviews for me and other Taplinger authors. And Louis Strick has also gotten ahold of a high-powered subsidiary rights guy, Elliot Zuckerman.
I ran out to an all-night newsstand, got five copies of the Daily News, and woke up my parents, who were flabbergasted.
Tuesday, June 26, 1979
10 PM. I finally managed to get to sleep last night. I suppose I expected more would happen because of Liz Smith’s column. Not that I’m disappointed, but I wasn’t deluged by phone calls.
Joel Agee and Harvey both called while I was out, and Alice phoned early this morning, after Richard called her at 8 AM to read her the column. And Jo Bisogno called out to Dad as he was leaving this morning; she spotted it immediately. But no one else seemed to have seen it.
Of course thousands of people read Liz Smith’s column – millions, probably, if you count the sixty papers in which her syndicated column is carried. I imagine a number of my acquaintances saw it and just didn’t call me.
A lot of people saw the Post’s Page Six last year. Today I got a rejection from Henry Jacobs of Wooden Needle Press, and he ended by saying, “I hope you’ve recovered from last year’s ‘scandal’ with Doctorow.”
I sent him back a thank-you note with a xerox of Liz Smith’s column and wrote, “Well, as you can see, I’m still in the gossip columns.” Success and fame are really the best kinds of revenge.
I imagine all those who rejected me, looked down upon me, and laughed at my attempts to become a writer today reading Liz Smith’s column. But of course it’s much more rewarding to share it with friends.
I called Josh and Teresa and Ronna, and when I met Mike at Brooklyn College, I told him about it. Since last week, things have certainly turned a corner for me. Those weeks of frustration are over. (At the English Department I noted with satisfaction that the veterans’ English 0.2 class that Gelernt took away from me got canceled anyway.)
Today brought a new story in The Penny Dreadful and a nice note from Tom Whalen. I called up many bookstores, and none had the book. At Books & Company, Burt Britton said he was refusing to order it, saying that just because it was in a gossip column, it didn’t sound like the kind of book his store would want to carry.
So I’ve got my work cut out for me in trying to sell the book. Still, I know I did my best and I’m eager to do more.
Wednesday, June 27, 1979
10 PM. Today was a full day.
Wes called at 4 PM to say that the Liz Smith column had spurred an avalanche of phone calls from Cosmo, The Daily News, etc., asking for review copies of the book. I hope they’re pleased at Taplinger.
They got a call from a Larry Joachim, a film producer, who seemed all set to do a movie of the book and wanted to speak with me, so Wes gave me the man’s number.
He also invited me to hear him sing and play the piano and guitar at a showcase at this club, Chili, Etc., on Thursday night. I had no idea Wesley wanted to be a performer. I’ll be glad to go, and I asked Alice, who said she might be able to review it for Our Town.
When I spoke to Larry Joachim, I immediately understood the Yiddish accent Wes had mimicked in his voice. His receptionist, upon hearing my name, said, “The author?”
But Mr. Joachim himself seemed not to know who I was; he got on the line and started asking about my “trip to the Coast with Lewis.”
After I identified myself, he said, “You’re very young. I hear your book is very funny. Would you like to make a movie of it?”
I said I didn’t think it could be made into a movie.
“Maybe it would make a Broadway show?”
I had to keep from laughing. But I figured I’d have Wes send Mr. Joachim the book despite his sounding like one of Saul Bellow’s phony wild-man con artist characters; he might be able to get me some writing work.
However, when I told Wes about the call, I discovered that he had spoken to his father about Larry Joachim and learned that they’d gone to Midwood together. In high school, Lou said, he had been a prodigy, writing for Bob Hope – but the last Lou had heard, Joachim was promoting kiddie shows on Saturday afternoons.
Now that I’ve been energized by the Liz Smith column, I’m raring to get to work. I’ve been writing editors of small newspapers giving them my poor unrecognized-author spiel; it might work with a few of them. I know Eileen Prescott’s agency is very good, but the things I’m doing wouldn’t work with a press agent.
Last evening I wrote an article about running for Vice President and sent it off to the “Gazette” section of New York magazine. I sent out all my clippings to an editor at People.
Look, I’ve got to do this stuff. At least I’m trying to get publicity and reviews. And I get satisfaction from things like Mom telling me that Dr. and Mrs. Levinson were pleased to see the Liz Smith column or Harvey telling me that the Park Slope Community Bookstore is definitely ordering Hitler.
Everything seems to be going right for me. Today I even got a pen-and-ink drawing accepted by The Black Review.
I called Joel Agee back, and he said that Harvey was with him and they were struggling to finish writing the introduction to their ’60s book. Joel’s own book has been postponed from August till next February. Harvey’s been drifting and at loose ends, as usual.
At Brooklyn College this afternoon, I met Laurie after her class. She enjoys teaching and doesn’t miss the bookstore. Laurie and I were sitting on the quadrangle when we were joined by Mike. Together we all wondered what happened to people like Jane, Leon, Elayne and Stanley.
Laurie told us that she’s become a “groupie” for a softball team peopled by Kings County assistant district attorneys. They play near here, at Mill Basin Park, and Laurie said she’d stop by next Thursday.
Tonight on WNET, a book critic ravaged Jacob Epstein’s Wild Oats, saying that all the praise his book is getting is because he’s the son of Jason Epstein.
I’d wondered how a novel by a 23-year-old gets so much acclaim – especially from Random House authors. I feel less envious of him now, but I should have known.
Jonny did me an enormous favor and waited on line for two hours to fill up my tank with gas. The gas shortage has produced a whole different mentality. On TV and in the papers, there are “notes from the gas lines,” stories of human interest, of violence, and above all of frustration. No one believes the shortage is real, but they don’t know what to do to protest.
Most Americans, like me, take the imminent falling to earth of Skylab as a joke, but it’s still causing uneasiness in the country: something that’s literally “hanging over our heads.”
Maybe Skylab will crash on July 20, the tenth anniversary of the moon landing. (The first person to get hit by a chunk of it could say, à la Neil Armstrong: “One small chunk for me, one giant clunk for mankind.”)
Dad had his interview with Chet Pollack today. Oddly enough, Dad showed up wearing one of their company’s suits without having realized it. Dad said he hoped he didn’t look too old.
During the interview, Dad mentioned that I knew Ivan, and when Dad also mentioned Ronna’s name, Chet’s face “lit up”; I had told Dad that Ronna went out with Ivan for years.
Chet told Dad that Ronna’s grandfather bought rags from them, and that when Ivan got married, Poppy Sam actually sat shiva for him. (Ronna never told me that.)
Chet said that they’d let Dad know tomorrow about whether they’re hiring him as the Florida-Georgia-Alabama salesman. I’m afraid Dad is counting too much on getting the job.
I have mixed feelings about Dad going to work for Ivan’s family’s business as well as about my parents moving to Florida. But this salesman job might be the best thing for Dad – and Mom, too. At least I know the Pollacks are not the kind of people who will screw Dad royally; they’re too decent.
Saturday, June 30, 1979
8 PM. Half of 1979 is over already; it barely seems possible. I had a productive session with Dr. Pasquale today.
Last night Chet Pollack offered Dad the job of salesman for the company’s Florida-Alabama-Georgia territory, and Dad has accepted. He still has another job interview on Monday for a position with a jeans firm in Manhattan, but if that doesn’t work out, he’s going to Florida.
At least that’s what Mom says.
With Dad, well, as usual, “it’s not the right time to talk about it.” For Dad, it’s never the right time to talk about anything important and unsettling. He never prepared for the future because he was too afraid to look at it. That’s how he got himself into the position he is now: where, at 52, he has to work for Ivan’s family for $300 a week.
Mom can’t be very happy about his being away traveling, but I don’t think she really accepts it. Even now, I tend to doubt Dad will make the move. Of course, he’s broke and he doesn’t have much choice. He’s scared, he told me, and worried about how Marc and I will do on our own in New York.
I became furious with him. How dare he worry about me, who can take care of myself better than anyone in the family. And, I told him, if he hadn’t made it so easy for Marc by taking him into the business – the way Grandpa Nat did with Dad himself – Marc would have found something on his own by now.
At least I broke the family’s vicious cycle of being dependent on my father for a job. Dad admits that Grandpa Nat did everything to make his life easy. Dad still can’t get out of his father’s shadow. The reason he failed in business with his partner was because Dad thought the man would treat him as a son, the way Grandpa Nat did.
I am furious with Dad for getting himself – and his family – into this position, but I also can’t help myself and I feel very sorry for him.
I suppose Ivan’s family will treat Dad well, though of course I resent what I see (psychologically, not realistically) as their control of my father. I always wanted to be like the Pollacks myself. And I will be.
Dr. Pasquale says I vacillate between utter helplessness and assertive mastery, and that I haven’t learned that true control isn’t entirely in or out of my hands.
Anyway, if my parents move to Florida, that raises a new question: Do I still want to go to Albany for the doctoral program? I am going there, and I’ve never denied it, more for personal reasons than for professional ones. At 28, I wanted to break with my family and live in another city.
But if this home I’ve lived in all my life no longer is our home and my family – except Marc – is in Florida, I don’t really need to go to Albany to escape them. In fact, all that change might be too much for me. I’d be giving up my ties to New York City and I don’t want to do that.
If my parents remain here, I’ll definitely move to Albany. But if they go to Florida, it becomes an open question. I might be happier (and now I suspect I would) living on my own in the city I know and love.
Dr. Pasquale didn’t think this sounded unreasonable. I’m not worried about making a living. There will be teaching jobs, writing assignments – I’m not afraid of getting a full-time position doing anything I have to. I have many resources to fall back on, and the change will be easier for me than for any other member of the family.
Dr. Pasquale says (and of course he didn’t have to tell me this) that I have to think about how much Albany means to me. Do I really want a doctorate? No. The program looks interesting, but I don’t think that the program per se would make me a better writer; it was the experience of independence I was looking for to give me that.
It sounds as though I’ve already decided – but then again, who knows what my parents will do? Inertia has ruled them for so long they have a hard time doing anything new. And as Dr. Pasquale said, I still have a couple of months to decide.