Thursday, August 2, 1979
2 PM on a brutally hot and humid day. We’ve had no relief from this weather in weeks, and it’s getting on everyone’s nerves. My nerves are shot too, and I want to spend the rest of the afternoon resting and keeping away from the outside world.
The AP story broke last night at 10 PM; I know this because after midnight I got a call from Joanne Wasserman, a Post reporter. It was hard to be intelligent, not to say coherent, after being awakened, and I’m sure I didn’t sound very clear.
I was a bit annoyed at the Post story that came out today. It didn’t mention my book or that I’m a writer at all; the article identified me as a “Brooklyn College professor.”
I was doubly embarrassed when the English Department secretary, Sylvia Blitzer, phoned to say that there had been a call from the Daily News. I tried to explain that it was a mistake. I hope they won’t hold this against me, but they probably will.
I don’t know if any papers picked up the AP story, which was more accurate and funnier. It wasn’t in any of the local papers, and it’s too hot for me to schlep to Times Square to pick up copies of out-of-town newspapers on the off-chance that someone took the story.
It hasn’t appeared on TV or radio, either, as far as I know. The whole thing may have gotten a little out of hand. I did grant an interview to Mark Leiberman of the Daily News Brooklyn section, but I didn’t want a photo taken: I have really bad acne now, and I’d come out looking crummy.
I did call Wes, who’s staying home today, because in the Post article I thought I could help by describing his concert tonight as a fundraiser for my campaign. I think he was pleased; at least he said he wasn’t angry.
Mikey is picking me up tonight, and then we’re going to fetch Teresa. Alice and a few friends will be meeting us at Eric’s. I just wish everything wasn’t happening at once. I feel jittery, as though I’d had too much caffeine.
Last night I didn’t sleep very well and I probably won’t tonight, either. During the day today, I spoke with Elihu, Josh, Alice, Teresa and my grandparents.
Anyway, the Cleveland Plain Dealer review came in today’s mail. The reviewer, James R. Frakes, ends his discussion of Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall (“Harrison can write. I wish he would.”) and then moves on to Hitler:
In his collection of 28 “stories,” Richard Grayson also lets his obsessions show. The style throughout is resolutely brisk, the tone is arch (not to say fey) and the model is Donald Barthelme. (I am not disarmed by Grayson’s anticipating me here: “Too much like Barthelme indeed!” the story howls. ‘My dialogue has resonance!'”)
Stories, you see, talk back to their author. Characters try to escape from their narratives. The author appears under his own name. Instead of “tiresomely conventional” short-story forms, we get Questions and Answers, fan letters to Chief Justice Burger, classified personal mating ads, soap opera “spoofs,” academic not-too-far-in jokes. Plus some funny names (Sarah Lawrence of Arabia, Adlai Stevenson Rosenthal, Placenta Smith) and puns. When lovable Hitler visits his friends in Brooklyn, he freaks out when he sees Sen. Sam Ervin doing a commercial for American Express.
Oddly, the most effective pieces are five Jewish-family stories, almost traditional, never sentimental – see especially “Slowly, Slowly in the Wind” and “Driving Slow.”
This is a funny, sad, patchy volume. It shines with intelligence and even wit, but it also contains a lot of scribbling, doodling, showing off. Richard Grayson seems to enjoy Richard Grayson very, very much. But you won’t be bored.
The Post article was headlined “Prof Flips Hat into 3-Ring Circus”:
A Brooklyn College English professor, who says he’s protesting the country’s “circus-like” political campaigns, has decided to take a leave from the ivory tower and run for Vice President.
Richard Grayson, 28, is even officially recognized by the Federal Election Commission.
The federal agency has been flooding him with campaign finance forms since the day he wrote them – and they’ve never questioned his eligibility.
“I just wanted to see if the FEC would take anybody seriously and apparently they do,” he said.
Grayson’s biggest concern now is raising the bus fare to New Hampshire to campaign for the nation’s first primary.
He’s already begun a furious campaign.
He held a $10-a-plate bagel dinner, which brought in $10. His brother was the sole guest and contributor.
A rock singer friend, Wesley Strick, will hold a benefit concert for him tonight at Eric’s at 8 p.m.
And, he’s drafted his entire family for a Principle [sic] Campaign Committee.
The U.S. Constitution puts the age for holding the office at 35. While Grayson is too young for the job, his political spirit has not been dampened.
Not particular about his political party, Grayson is waiting for an offer from any ticket.
“Jimmy, Jerry, Teddy, they’re all the same to me.”
A health-conscious candidate, Grayson has no objection to the country’s second best seat – especially when he found out there are already 64 contenders for the presidency.
“The President tends to get old a lot quicker,” he said. “And Mr. Mondale looks thinner lately.”
His platform is based on the idea of “hereditary titles,” such as lord and baron. He also favors regional primaries and a ban on television commercials for candidates.
The serious side of Grayson’s candidates involves his belief that the country’s leaders are in a “perpetual state of campaigning on non-issues.”
“I wouldn’t mind living in that nice house,” said Richard Grayson.
“And I think I could do as good a job as Spiro Agnew or any of the others.”
Friday, August 3, 1979
8 PM. Mikey and I were making arrangements to go to Manhattan yesterday when he mentioned seeing my book listed in the listing of new books in the Times. Sure enough, I had missed that.
Mikey came over at 6 PM, and immediately after we got on the Belt Parkway, we were pulled over by the police. Mikey’s mother had let her inspection sticker expire in June without renewing it.
I was impressed with the way Mikey handled the ticket; I even found myself feeling guilty for taking his car and making the suggestion that we take the parkway, but Mikey himself was calm and philosophical – and he wasn’t trying to hide any feelings, either.
It started raining as we drove up to Teresa’s. We found her and her doctor friend Diana in the air-conditioned bedroom. Teresa has the sweetest friends; Diana is pretty, thin (she has great legs) with a cute lisping Southern accent and sharp wit.
The ladies got dressed and we drove through the park to the East Side. It was fun, like a high school double date. I liked being out with good-looking people.
We saw Marla and Wes in front of Eric’s Bar – he looked a little nervous and she was stunning in a slinky black low-cut dress – and we went into the back room.
I stopped to talk to Scott Sommer, who didn’t recognize me at first. Scott told me he’s found an apartment in Manhattan, “and if they don’t sell the paperback rights pretty soon I’m not going to be there very long.”
We found seats at a table in the back, were joined by Alice, and we ordered drinks. I saw several of Wes’s friends whom I know by sight – like the funny, caustic guy who writes for Time – and there were people there from Taplinger.
Wes came out in pajamas and handcuffs, led by his friend Kyle, who was dressed as a hospital orderly. “You’ve all been asked here because you’ve committed some horrible transgression,” Wes said, “and now you’re going to pay the price – by listening to me play eighteen songs.”
I thought it was a great show. Wes’s songs are full of intelligent, sensuous imagery, very Springsteenesque. He plays the piano masterfully, and as Teresa said, “He’s gorgeous; how can he be straight?”
Alice didn’t think much of Wes’s voice, but I could listen to him all night. Of course that may be because he’s my friend and I’m just a little in love with him (and he knows it).
Wesley is a great showman. He used stage props effectively (a bust of Elvis, Marla taking Polaroids of the audience as he sang “Photoplay”) and he ended with a singalong to his “Hard Drugs”; Marla handed out lyric sheets and little Maalox pills encased in tinfoil.
The place was packed, the sound system was good, and there was a lot of applause. The five of us had trouble dividing up the bill, and we stumbled out laughingly into the muggy night.
Teresa and Alice hit it off, and matchmakers that they are, they immediately began quizzing Mikey and Diana on their preferences in the opposite sex. We stopped off at a Baskin-Robbins for ice cream and we were having a very good time.
But Teresa wanted to go home and Diana had the midnight shift at Columbia-Presbyterian, so Alice, Mikey and I went on alone to 100th and Riverside and Wesley and Marla’s party.
It was very hot in the apartment, and we stayed only an hour. I wanted to talk to Scott; Wes gave him copies of his PW and Kirkus reviews, which were very good.
Wes said he was thrilled to see his name in the article about my V.P. campaign in the New York Post, and I told him he was great tonight. I hugged Marla, lifting her off the ground, and spoke with Bobs Pinkerton and Roy Thomas, whom I think are alcoholics (neither was coherent).
As Alice said as we drove downtown, Wes and his friends are not really our types: they’re hipper, richer, better brought-up and more spoiled – but we did enjoy being with them.
After dropping Alice off in the Village, Mikey and I drove home down Flatbush Avenue; he wanted to stop at the McDonald’s by Fillmore Avenue. There we met Carl and Alan Karpoff’s father on his way home; he supervises six of their Brooklyn franchises.
And at the table in McDonald’s, I opened the Saturday New York Times I’d bought at the Junction and found an intelligent little piece on me, “A Running Mate in Search of a Candidate,” in their Notes on People.
It described me as a “part-time English instructor at Brooklyn College and at Long Island University” and gave my FEC identification number, P00000851, although, weirdly, in the middle of the item, it called me “Mr. Thatcher,” obviously mixing me up with Margaret Thatcher (because we’re so much alike?).
It had some of the quotes from the Post article that came from the AP story.
Monday, August 6, 1979
11 PM. I am enjoying life more than I ever have. I am plain old having fun. Today, like almost every day this summer, seemed to hold some interesting surprises.
One uninteresting surprise: this morning Elise called again. She seems to be such a dull, whining person. I had spoken to her on Friday and was polite but not overly friendly.
I got to the Pierre at 1 PM. Today’s weather was bearable, and I looked great. (I don’t often look great, you know.) I was announced and went up to suite 627, where I met Alma Grimaldi, the secretary, and Sean Jacobs, the boss’s son.
Despite the ambience of the fancy hotel room – or maybe because of it – I immediately knew these characters were Sleaze City. They’re doing a series of ripoff books and wanted me to do one on death and dying.
Within minutes, they typed up a contract, gave me four books to rip off, an outline to guide me, and told me I’d have a six-month deadline, no royalties and a nickel a word.
I couldn’t say they were crooks to their faces, but there’s no way I could write this book. I do have some integrity, and hell, they’re not offering enough to corrupt me.
I do feel glad I was able to see them; Dad always seems to have trouble with misplaced trust in sharpies who talk fast, and I hope I get better vibrations from these kinds of people than he does. Ugh.
I told Alice about it and she said it didn’t seem at all reputable. Then I called Scott Sommer out by the Jersey shore, and we gabbed for a while. At the party on Thursday, he was a bit drunk and I didn’t get to talk to him much.
Scott remarked that at parties I’m always sober and always leave early, so he thinks I’m mature. (Maybe I am.) Scott read me his Kirkus review, which was superb: they compared Nearing’s Grace favorably to Wild Oats.
I tried to give Scott some pointers on promoting his books, but he’s your typical above-it-all author. I suppose I’m envious, perhaps because my Kirkus review was bad and while Felicia Eth has no hopes for Hitler, she is very high on paperback rights and movie rights for Scott’s book. On the other hand, being in second place always makes me try harder.
Scott’s moving to Manhattan, and when I asked him about paying the rent, he said, “My family’s wealthy and they give me money.”
“My family’s poor,” I replied, “and I give them money.” But you know something? I think if I were well-off like Scott or Wes or Rick Peabody, I wouldn’t have some of the strengths I do have. I’ve come to think of myself as this gutsy, scrappy street kid everyone in the old neighborhood is pulling for.
At 9 PM, I got a call: “Richard?”
“This is Stanley Siegel.”
I went bananas. He was nice enough to reply to my letter by phone. I told him about Kenny Panzer being my cousin – when he was poor, he used to live with them in Aunt Minnie’s basement – and he asked about my book, which he called just plain Hitler in New York.
I was a bit tongue-tied, but he told me to come by in September when they’re taping the show, and he gave me his number at CBS. Now if I can only get on the show!
I’d mailed him because I was answering Stanley’s ad in the New York Times: he was looking for a luxury East Side apartment, and I wrote that I didn’t have one but that I’d be happy to move in with him and his girlfriend and do their cleaning and laundry in exchange for sleeping on their living room floor. He thought that was very funny.
Look, I must be pretty good if I can get AP, the Post, the Times, Liz Smith, Arthur Bell, and Stanley Siegel to sit up and notice me. I try to send out at least five letters every day to promote my book.
Tonight at the Grand Army Plaza library, I read for a couple of hours, learning about marketing books. If there’s anything positive to come out of this summer’s experiences, the most important thing I’ve learned is that it pays to be informed and to have chutzpah.
Pete Cherches called me to say that the Department of Educational Services job at Brooklyn College I applied for is for the program he’s tutoring in. It does sound very interesting, and I might have a good shot at it.
Tuesday, August 7, 1979
8 PM. For the first time in a month, it was comfortable out today. I don’t even have the air conditioner on now. There’s a beautiful sunset and a cool breeze.
It’s getting dark earlier these days; in another month, it will be September, always the most beautiful month in New York City. I am glad I will be staying here to enjoy it.
I’m alone in the house now. This may be the last time I’m alone in this house. Jonny and Mom and Dad went to a show in the city, and Marc is at Deanna’s.
A black girl just called for “Jonathan.” On Friday, Mom found a letter (sealed, addressed, and stamped) that Jonny wrote to a girl named Kyra. Mom found her in Jonny’s yearbook and was upset to see the girl was black.
All day today Jonny was anxious for the mailman to come; he must have been waiting for a reply. These are mysteries of the heart I know nothing about.
Other mysteries: I called Ronna last night. I was excited by Stanley Siegel’s call and wanted to tell someone about it; besides, I’ve finally accepted that Ronna’s seeing another guy.
I was not at all surprised to find out that it was Evan’s law student friend Jordan. He and Ronna were victims of a robbery, she told me.
“It’s just that he’s 22 and very young,” she said. “He likes to go to the beach, and on Saturday night, against my better judgment, we went to Brighton Beach after dark. We were sitting by the water when these two black guys came over and asked us for a quarter. Jordan gave them some change. . . But they didn’t go away.”
They demanded all the money Jordan and Ronna had. One was very angry and threatening to use a gun. They had a plank of wood and a knife. They took Ronna’s money – about $28 – as well as her watch and the bracelet Susan’s mother had bought her. And they took Jordan’s money and his car registration and driver’s license, which he had wrapped his money around.
One of the guys put his hands down Ronna’s top – that must have been awful – and when Jordan said, “Leave her alone,” they asked Ronna, “You want your boyfriend to get knifed?”
Finally they left them alone, and Ronna and Jordan went to look for a cop. Not finding one, they went back to Jordan’s house, where his mother made him call the police.
“Twenty-two-year-old boys tend to listen to their mothers,” Ronna said. She kept making a big thing of his age, and she told me her mother said Jordan was a moron.
Even though I felt very bad for him, secretly I felt happy in one respect: Ronna knew I would never – did never – put her in danger like that, not even when I was 22. So I could say to her about the difference in their ages: “The advantage for you is that he’s at the height of his sexual powers.”
Of course I felt it was inevitable that Ronna was comparing Jordan to me – and probably also to Ivan. I gave Ronna regards from Ivan via my father, who worked with him all day yesterday. As ridiculous as it sounds, I can’t help feeling I’ve got Ivan on my side, too. Although I don’t really want to get back with Ronna, I just don’t like knowing that she prefers another guy to me.
Dr. Pasquale and I went over similar ground when I mentioned how upset I was that Baruch College preferred Josh’s résumé to mine. It wasn’t so much the job itself, but that I hate being passed over in favor of someone else.
I do understand the feelings are coming from my own sense of inadequacy – which also means that I can control them. If I give Ronna or Baruch College or the reviewer for the Los Angeles Times power to decide my worth, I can never be happy because I’ll never please everyone.
Today I worked like a devil, mailing out more than thirty letters to people and places, trying to spread the word about my book. (I think I’ll nickname it by its initials, WHINY.)
Permafrost, the literary magazine at the University of Alaska, asked me to send them some fiction. Now I’m being solicited. (I sent them some stories; for a while, I’ll only respond to solicitations.)
Susan Lawton sent me a chain letter. How I hate chain letters.
Wednesday, August 8, 1979
10 PM. Ten years ago, August 8, 1969, a Friday, I bought a diary, and sitting on the grass at Brooklyn College (in a spot which no longer exists, having long since been taken over by a “temporary” building), I proceeded to write diary entries for the first week in August.
Today People magazine called Taplinger to ask for a photo to accompany their review of my book. Wes said the photo may not appear but apparently the review will.
“Under ‘Picks and Pans’?” I asked Wesley.
“I think it’s gonna be a ‘pick,’” he said.
I guess they wouldn’t ask for my photo if they were going to pan it. This is unbelievable. I did write the woman at People who called Wes, but I never thought it would amount to anything.
If for any reason the People review doesn’t appear, I don’t want to be devastated. This is getting scary. I may actually get the thing I’ve wished for: isn’t that supposed to be the worst thing that can happen? But I’ve got to focus on the little realities of my life or I’ll go mad.
The University of Miami’s English Department chairman wrote to say he’s interested in me for the vacancy next spring; this was before I wrote Dean Jerry Katz, Irv Littman’s close friend. They asked to see my book, so I sent it on down to them.
Star-Web Paper #7 arrived today, about four years after “Notes on the Type” and “Mark the Public Notices” were accepted. It was nice to see the latter story in print, however; I wrote Tom Fisher and told him I gave him an acknowledgement in Hitler.
Last evening George Drury Smith of Beyond Baroque phoned from Venice, California. They were typesetting their new issue and discovered they’d lost my contract and the statement I’d written about my two stories.
I told George I’d get them out to him right away, and I also mentioned my good L.A. Times review; he was impressed. (I’ve discovered it never hurts to blow your own horn – most of the time, anyway.)
My Bulletin Board ad appeared in the Village Voice today (I wonder if anyone will see it) along with a scathing review of the latest Fiction Collective books and venom about the Collective itself, which James Woollcott dismissed as “an academic vanity press.”
Now that I’m on the other side, I can’t help seeing the Fiction Collective differently, and I can’t help feeling superior to them. I want as wide an audience as possible now – and I’ve got a feeling my work is going to be, if not less experimental, more accessible.
I’d love for Baumbach to come across the review in People. But it may not appear, and it doesn’t make me a better writer if it does appear.
I spoke to Vito, who’s moved to a new East Side apartment. I can’t imagine how he affords $360 a month rent. He got all excited about my news.
Jacob had news of his own when he called: he and Rita were married last week. It all happened very quickly, Jacob said, and it still hasn’t sunk in – especially since he’s in the city this week and Rita’s upstate.
This evening I went to see Aunt Betty in the hospital. On Saturday she was dressing Uncle Jack when he wobbled and they both fell to the ground. She smashed her hip against the hospital bed and had to be operated on Sunday. Aunt Betty looked awful; she was in excruciating pain despite heavy drugs.
I brought her water and propped a pillow under her. She said it was a freak accident – but look how it ended. She can’t move her toes, and it will take weeks of therapy before she can walk again.
That made me realize that nothing is certain in this world. I stopped off to see Grandpa Herb to tell him how his sister-in-law was doing. Grandma Ethel was out playing cards, of course, but Dad was there because he wanted Grandpa to fix the pants he had botched in his first attempt at alterations.