A 29-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1980

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Friday, July 11, 1980

5 PM. It’s a humid, 90° day and I have a terrible sinus headache and am feeling pretty cranky.

Russ Galen called me an hour ago to tell me that he finished reading my book. He was going to read it over the weekend, but he ended up finishing it today. He thought it was well-written, bright, witty, stylish, and a good book.

with-hitler-in-new-yorkHowever – in life isn’t there always a “however”? – he couldn’t tell anything from it about what kind of novelist I’d be. After all, there is no sustained narrative in any of the stories; he said the “Introduction” came closest to it.

I told him that I didn’t know what kind of novelist I’d be either; I don’t even know if I can do a novel at all. I had told him yesterday that I had an outline for a novel, but actually it’s just my idea about the story of characters based on myself and Avis/Alice/Teresa.

He was hot for me to send him an outline or a letter explaining the idea, and while I couldn’t quite understand the rush, I am flattered by his getting in touch with me right away.

I probably will try to work out a book proposal in the next week or so and get back to Russ Galen. (We’re still on a last-name basis.)

olt“Don’t let an agent tell you what to write,” Ken Gangemi said to me yesterday. But I think I’ve been wanting to write a novel for a long time. Maybe that’s what this whole dissatisfaction with Hitler is all about.

Can I do it? That’s the $100,000 question. I’m frightened of the hard work, the frustrations, the setbacks that are ahead of me. After all, I’ve never written a novel before (except for that disjointed one about Brooklyn College), and perhaps I have too much respect for the form. I approach the novel as something sacred, and maybe that’s a mistake. Oh well, we’ll see what happens.

Earlier in the day, I went over to my grandparents’ (blissfully air-conditioned) apartment. Grandpa Herb doesn’t know whether he wants surgery.

dayton-towers-oldHe says that he’s had this thing for two years and it hasn’t bothered him, and he’s worried about undergoing such a serious operation. I can’t say I blame him; he must be very frightened. But not having this surgery may mean an early death.

Grandma Ethel is very upset, and she also feels trapped by Grandpa’s illness; she hasn’t played cards or gone visiting for over a month. All day long she has to cater to his every whim.

Obviously, Grandpa Herb is very depressed. I tried to take his mind off it by asking him for advice and requesting that he re-tell certain of his stories.

1980-stamps-3In the mail, I got a letter from Patti, a girl whose ad I answered five years ago. She wrote that she was cleaning up and found my letters and the stories I had sent her, and she wanted to know what happened to me.

Patti graduated from college and is now an interior designer in Greenville, North Carolina. I wrote her back; I was pleased and flattered that someone would think I’m special enough to want to know what happened to me.

I have to go to see Avis and Anthony now.

*

1 AM. I’ve got the radio playing, the fan going, the windows open. These summer nights seem made for thinking.

verrazano-streetAfter spending the evening with Avis and Anthony, I don’t know if they’re doing the right thing in getting married – of course there is no “right” thing – but I think they may be happy.

Anthony seems the kind of guy who inspires confidence. Next to Anthony, Simon and Josh are just boys; I like Anthony the way I liked Helmut. He’s what I expected: a big, bearish guy, broad-shouldered, bearded, with a pleasant face. He and Avis seem very comfortable with each other.

I was a bit late in getting to Avis’s in Park Slope, and we had to leave right away for the ashram on State Street. We met Marsha, Anthony’s friend, there – but it turned out that it was a “men only” night, so we ended up state-st-ashram-1going for dinner at Mr. Souvlaki on Montague Street.

Dinner was interesting. Marsha talked a lot and she’s a bit hyper, but she’s into therapy, Tab and cynicism, so I liked her. She and Anthony lived together for two years; before that, she was married and had a daughter who is now 12.

I followed Anthony on his motorcycle as we drove all over Brooklyn. When he said that Marsha’s nonstop talking during dinner had given him a headache, Avis said, “Wait till he meets Teresa.” Teresa is having all of us for dinner on July 22.

Avis and Anthony’s wedding will be on Saturday, August 9, at 2 PM in the UN Chapel. They still haven’t found a guru to marry them; Anthony is really kundalini-maninto kundalini yoga.

We made two trips from Park Slope to Bay Ridge, loading up Grandpa Herb’s car with Avis’s trunks, her clothes and other possessions.

Justin was in the kitchen, cooking as usual, when we first arrived. He said that sometimes work is okay and sometimes it’s not; his boss, Alexander H. Cohen, is in Europe now.

Lugging Avis’s things from the house to the car to Anthony’s apartment gave me a chance to get to know Anthony. He’s very calm; I get the feeling that he’s been through a lot and finally knows where he’s going.

Of course I was flattered when he said he liked my book and when he asked me if I lifted weights to get my “huge arms,” but I have a hunch I would have liked him anyway.yogi-bhajan-ego

As Anthony rode his motorcycle, Avis and I had a chance to be alone. She said she’s become very “serious” about life; she expects the next few years to be “building for the future.”

Avis said Teresa and I will be the only friends invited to the wedding and a luncheon afterwards. Last night when she spoke to her brother-in-law, Wade said that Avis’s mother calls Charlottesville every night to rant and rave about what Avis is doing.

After finally getting everything into the dumpy apartment on Shore Road, we relaxed and took a walk on the 69th Street Pier, just across the street from Anthony’s building.

pier-nightIt was beautiful out there tonight: in the distance there was heat lightning, and the air smelled of fish. Like me, Anthony prefers living close to the water.

We watched the Staten Island ferry make its way through the Narrows and a tanker, assisted by a tugboat, speed by. The Verrazano Bridge was to the south and the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline to the north.

Anthony held Avis, and for once I was not put off by a couple’s publicly displayed affection. I do wish Anthony and Avis every happiness.

Earlier I told Avis I wasn’t sure what I was going do about moving and she said, “I’ll support any decision you make”: that’s friendship. Avis said I have a lot of tsuris in my family, but I told her I had faith that everything would jamaica-bay-nightwork out, for all of us.

Right now, lying here with the windows open, staring out at the sky and the bay and the city, I really feel that everything actually will work out. Whatever this past winter’s discontent was, I’m over the worst of it.


Monday, July 14, 1980

10 PM. I just shut off the sound on the Republican convention. Even for a political junkie like me, the rhetoric was beginning to wear thin.

The GOP is completely under the control of the Reaganites, and I suspect they’ll win in November. I won’t vote for Carter but for John Anderson or reagan-magamaybe the candidates of the Citizens or Libertarian parties.

Last night at 8 PM, I just had to get out and so I got in the car and drove into Manhattan, thinking a lot about immediate plans. On a summer evening, New York can be very beautiful, but maybe it would be best for me to leave right now.

I called up Alice, who took me out for iced tea and cake at Le Figaro on MacDougal and Bleecker; we sat outside and talked for over an hour.

She had a wonderful time at the Quadna conference in a resort town in northern Minnesota, where Alice said the surroundings were breathtaking. le-figaro“I had as good a time there as you had at MacDowell,” she told me.

Her students were receptive and intelligent, and she got a rush from teaching them. On Friday, Mark drove all the way up to see her and they spent the night and most of Saturday in Minneapolis.

She and Mark had an idyllic time making love, talking, he reading her his poetry. Alice gave me a copy of a chapbook of his and his magazine, Jump River Review. Unlike Mark’s wife, Alice encourages his literary ambitions.

Peter understands totally, and just as long as Alice tells him everything that goes on, he’s happy. Alice looked absolutely radiant last night: she’s successful in her personal life and in her professional life, and she’s village-cigars-1enjoying every minute of it.

I’m glad for her. She was, of course, happy to hear about an agent’s interest in my work, and she assured me that one day I will have made it.

We walked through the crowded Village streets and up to her apartment, where Peter was relaxing in his underwear. I was so happy to be with people, I’m afraid I stayed a bit late, not leaving until 11:30 PM.

The drive back to Rockaway was relaxing, and I managed to have a short but good night’s sleep. This morning I filled a prescription in Brooklyn and shopped at Waldbaum’s, did my laundry, and stayed in my apartment for intercomthe installation of a new intercom buzzer system.

When I called my grandparents’ house at 4 PM, Grandma Ethel told me she had just come back from marketing; Grandpa Herb, as usual, had chastised her for leaving him alone for so long.

She told me Marty had phoned to say that the doctors wanted to put Grandpa in New York Hospital to determine what his breathing capability would be in the event they surgically remove part or all of his lung.

I phoned Marty to get the story straight: Grandpa Herb is now on a priority list and will get a bed sometime this week or next. Marty and Arlyne are going away for the weekend, but I’ll be around to take Grandpa to the hospital if they should call him on Friday.

ny-hospitalGrandpa Herb keeps saying his condition is “benign,” but Marty says, “He either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to: he has lung cancer.”

When Dad called, he said he thinks they should leave Grandpa Herb alone. Maybe that would be for the best, but as Marty said, he’d be gambling. Mom told me she’ll come up and stay with me if her father has the operation.

Dad asked if I’d spoken to Marc, and when I said that I assumed he was in Rhode Island, Dad told me that a girl named Cheryl answered the phone in Sheepshead Bay this weekend – “but she sounded just like Rikki.”


Wednesday, July 16, 1980

8 PM. Today was a stressful day, and the record-breaking 99° weather didn’t help, either.

dreams-die-firstLast night I slept well, and towards morning I had a dream in which I was reading a novel by Harold Robbins. In the book, one character asked another if a new author’s work was like “Grayson’s,” and the response was to the effect that “Grayson’s work is much more distinctive.”

I awoke with an ecstatic feeling: it was one of those moments of pure happiness that occur only for a few minutes in a year. I was thrilled in the dream to have the recognition of the general public, and in reality I was happy to learn that deep down, I still believe in myself. Dreams don’t lie.

It was 6 AM, and outside, a fierce thunderstorm was going on. I really got off on the lightning, thunder and heavy rain, and I lay in bed feeling like I had just won the Nobel Prize.

dayton-towers-west-from-boardwalkI picked up Grandma Ethel at 11:30 AM – or I should say I went over there at the time and stayed with her in the apartment for an hour. Arlyne had warned me to be gentle with Grandma, and so I tried to turn the conversation to neutral topics.

Grandma Ethel’s crying is directed not at her husband’s illness but at the fear she has about her own future. I couldn’t tell her this, of course, but I think if she had to, Grandma Ethel could survive without Grandpa Herb.

They’ve been married over fifty years and they’re very close, but over the past decade Grandpa Herb made her a prisoner of the apartment and his whims. She never got to travel or to go out to dinner or to shows; she’s never lived for herself.

park-aveBut I keep forgetting that my grandmother is an extremely ignorant and naïve woman. Today I was startled at something she said as we drove to and from New York Hospital: Grandma said she didn’t have any idea of where we were going or which bridge was which. It’s as though she hasn’t lived in the real world.

To pass the time while we were in the car, I asked her questions. Why had she never learned to drive? Grandpa Herb learned late, and he was reckless, so she was afraid to let him teach her. Why hadn’t she continued to work after her marriage? “That would have been considered shameful in those days.”

While I parked the car, Grandma Ethel got lost in the corridors of New York Hospital, but she finally found Grandpa Herb’s room. He looked good.

weillcornellThis morning, after anesthetizing his nose and throat, they put a tube down his nose and into his lung to take a biopsy. Grandpa said it was unpleasant and uncomfortable, but he didn’t appear to be in pain. He kept spitting up stuff into a jar the doctors left for him.

The doctors and nurses all seemed friendly, and Grandpa Herb joked with them a little. He kept nagging us to bring him some cigarettes to “calm” his nerves. Because today’s tests were on his mind, last night he didn’t get to sleep until 3 AM, when he asked for a sleeping pill.

He’s still not sure whether he wants the surgery. If he were younger, he said he would do it, but at his age, what was the point? When I told him maybe the operation could prolong his life for ten years, he said doubted it would.

1st-avWe stayed for two hours. Grandpa Herb told us not to come tomorrow: “It’s too much for Grandma.”

I know the six-block walk to the parking lot in the 99° heat was hard on her – I should have just driven back to the lobby and picked her up – and the air conditioning in Grandpa’s car wasn’t working very well.

When we got to Rockaway, where it was so much cooler and breezier, I stopped off at Ciro’s to get us pizza and Grandma Ethel and I had dinner at her wonderfully air-conditioned apartment.

Finally, after putting her to bed to get some rest, I came home to my own warm apartment to unwind and relax. I’ll watch the GOP convention: Reagan’s being nominated tonight.


Thursday, July 17, 1980

reagan-bush7 PM. Today was a day when everything in life seemed fucked up. I didn’t sleep much last night because it was too hot. Reagan picked Bush for Vice President after Ford decided not to run.

I was up early when Josh called. He was supposed to have a job interview, but it got canceled on him, so I said I’d meet him at Kings Plaza at 1 PM.

Then Grandma Ethel called to tell me to pick up Grandpa’s records at Peninsula Hospital; they never did send them to New York Hospital, of course.

rockaway-poI stopped off at the post office to pick up my mail and I don’t think I’ve ever had a more depressing batch. I’m not entitled to unemployment benefits, the determination said.

Why? Because I’m on the Touro College payroll till the end of August. But I’m not getting paid! Is that fair? It made me so enraged that I began to get a sour stomach.

This month’s phone bill was $90. All those credit card calls I made in New Hampshire really added up. Ark River Review rejected my chapbook; their only comment was “entertaining, but . . . “

Also in the mail was a letter from Rick Peabody, who tells me that he, too, sees through Michael Blumenthal although he agrees with me that Michael sympathetic-magicis so ambitious that he’ll be “a mover and shaker” in the poetry world; a note from Max Benavidez, inviting me to submit to a new magazine; and the guidelines for the next NEA fellowships, which will be for $12,500 and will be announced at the end of 1981.

Even if I got one, can I hold out until then? My rent was due two days ago, and I have $26 in the bank.

I was so angry and upset that I walked into the hospital prepared to give the records department people hell, but they were surprisingly cooperative.

Even though the envelope was sealed and marked, “confidential and privileged,” I opened it up and found no bombshells inside: Grandpa Herb has ileitis and a mass of cancer on the top of his right lung.

At the mall, Josh and I walked around and had lunch at Zum Zum. We were perfect company for each other today, as we played Down and zum-zumOut in the Big Apple.

Josh wanted to see my brother’s apartment, so we drove over to Sheepshead Bay. Rikki, after she made sure to get rid of the coke she was snorting, opened the door and gave me a tremendous hug.

Sitting with her in the kitchen was a shirtless man in his forties whom she introduced as her “godfather.” He was obviously a Mafia type: he looked as if he could murder a man the way I could crush a mosquito.

Rikki asked about “Mom” and “Grandpa” and showed me and Josh her two-inch long nails, painted a garish purple with diamonds in them. She was “doing her face”: her eye shadow and makeup were heavier than usual.

cocaine-ad-cutting-seriousBruce came by, and Rikki took him behind the closed bedroom door, where a deal was obviously going on. So Josh and I left after making extremely uncomfortable conversation with the Godfather – about the heat, New York (“Do you come here often?” I inanely asked), and other ridiculous topics.

I was very nervous in his presence, and after we got out the door and into the car, Josh said, “Your brother is king of the assholes.”

He said Rikki has “nutjob” written all over her face. The Godfather was frightening, but Josh said it was good that the two of us came off as a couple of gay assholes because Josh didn’t want the Godfather – no, Rikki never named him – to think he was a cop.

Josh said Marc was a hundred times better off with Deanna. He also told me I should have a talk with Marc “even though he probably won’t listen to reason.”

cocaine-ad-put-up-noseOur lives seem to be falling apart; I have nothing to hold onto anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t have canceled this week’s session with Dr. Pasquale – but I felt I couldn’t see him when I’m so broke and already owe him for back sessions.

I’m starting to feel suicidal again.


Saturday, July 19, 1980

3 PM. I’ve been lying on top of the bedcovers most of today. As usual, I’m depressed. I realize that many people have had it worse than I do, and I know that life is usually unfair, but I can’t help despairing at my situation.

Of course it is “situational,” as Dr. Pasquale once suggested. If someone came along with a good job or a sum of cash, my immediate problems would go away. I know suicide is the not the answer, yet if I knew that I would have to go on this way much longer, I’d probably prefer death.

funkytownThere are some things that can’t be taken away from me: My dreams (the past two nights I’ve dreamed of our old house in Brooklyn). The stories I’ve already written. The magnificent impressionistic sunsets we’ve been having lately. The enjoyment I take in food and in reading Emerson each night.

I’ve still got my old noggin, though I fear my intellectual capacities are atrophying. Now I completely understand why I haven’t written much in the past year and why I did write so much at MacDowell: I can’t create when all my energy goes into survival. I can’t create when I worry about an uncertain future.

This is a strange time to be alive. I always wonder how different a person I would be if I had made other choices.

new-eliteIf I had gone to law school, as I once planned to do, I could be leading a comfortable New Elite lifestyle, with an apartment in Manhattan, shares in a summer place on Fire Island, tickets to movies and shows, a wardrobe filled with nice clothes. I could live like Mikey or Scott and be a normal person.

So naturally I blame myself for the position I’m in, even though I know I’ve done all I can to make a go of it as a writer.

Are there any advantages to my situation? Maybe I have more of a feeling for poor and oppressed people. If I were Black or Hispanic, I think I’d be in a state of perpetual rage.

I’m almost in that condition anyway. I’ve managed to become bitter and cynical: is this weakness on my part, another thing to blame myself for?

gainfullyCrad Kilodney writes that he’s depressed; he hasn’t had much luck selling Gainfully Employed in Limbo on the street. He signs himself “your pal in limbo,” a phrase that could fit me as well.

I guess the best thing for me to do is go to Florida. At least there I can begin anew. It will be very hard at first, but I’ll have something to work for, a new kind of future. Jonny seems to be thriving in Florida; maybe I can, too.

What do I have if I stay here? My friends. The delights of New York City. Not much else. Oh, I keep hoping against hope that something will come along and neatly solve my problems, providing me with an easy rescue. But that won’t happen.

I feel beaten down again, the way I did all through the winter and spring. I feel deprived, like a ghetto or Third World child whose body is not getting the proper nutrients. Maybe I can understand, a little, why my brother Marc chose the “out” that he did.

rockaway-beach-cloudyIt’s a hazy, cloudy, humid afternoon in Rockaway – not a beach day despite the crowds on the beach. Remember how just a week ago and before that I was thinking that “everything will work out”? I suppose I still feel that way, but I dread the years until the time comes when everything does work out.

What I’m afraid of is things getting worse. I owe Grandpa Herb $400, and the Authors League Fund $300; I owe Dr. Pasquale $40, Josh $20, the phone company $100, my landlord $240. That’s over a thousand dollars.

What if I just keep sinking deeper in debt? Josh says that I’m probably food-stamp-10eligible for welfare and food stamps. The thought of accepting government aid sickens me, but there may come a point when I have to do it.

Oh hell, I’m so disgusted with myself! This is all such self-pitying, melodramatic shit! I want out.


Sunday, July 20, 1980

9 PM. New York has finally got the heat wave that’s been killing hundreds of people in the middle of the country. It hit 101° today in Central Park – a record-breaker – but it felt much cooler here by the beach.

bun-n-burger-hamburgsYesterday at 5:30 PM, I went to Kings Plaza. After dinner at Bun ‘n’ Burger, I took my two silver ID bracelets to the gold-buying place to sell them.

They tested them with acid, and one wasn’t sterling; the girl weighed the other bracelet (a present from Mom and Dad for my bar mitzvah) and then apologetically told me she could give me only $10 for it. I agreed to it, my head down; the man came out and stuck a folded-up bill in my hands.

I felt humiliated. As I drove to Manhattan, I started to cry. Look at what I’ve come to, I thought. I might have sold my Phi Beta Kappa key except for the fact that it’s gold-plated and not solid gold. How pathetic that would have been! I must use that as a scene in my fiction one day.

ny-hospital-signI found a legal parking space on York Avenue by New York Hospital and went up to see Grandpa Herb. Earlier, Grandma Ethel had been there with Minnie, Irving and Morris, and Grandpa said he had been “feeling down in the dumps.”

We talked for two hours, and we’ve never been closer. Because of his age, Grandpa Herb has more wisdom than I do. I asked him if he ever wanted to give up when things were so bad during the Depression; he said he just waited it out, and that’s what I’ve got to do.

Once, when Grandma Ethel was hospitalized in the mental institution after Uncle Marty was born, and Grandpa Herb was riding the trolley with Mom, who was only 5, Mom told him: “Daddy, don’t go to work today because you’re too nervous.”

1936She had picked up on his worry. He didn’t go to work that day. His boss had been paying him $42 a week, and he lowered Grandpa’s salary to $25, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Grandpa Herb had to “break up” his home and move in with his parents. When it snowed, he went out with a shovel to see if anyone needed his work.

Grandpa told me that being a writer is hard, but that I can always come back to writing and that I can write at night after work: “Right now you’ve got to take any job so long as it’s honest and get yourself on your feet.”

depressionMy grandfather is right. I can’t let pride keep me from working at whatever I can earn money doing. We talked for two hours, very intimately. He told me to sell his diamond ring if I ever was desperate for money.

We spoke about our siblings. He knows Tillie isn’t much help to anyone; he’s hurt that Marc hasn’t called him, but he didn’t say anything. There’s no one closer to Grandpa Herb than I am; I’m going to miss him terribly after he dies.

But I’ve had the good luck to have him this long. Last night he really made me feel better, even when he’s near death in the hospital.

nyt-july-20-1980I came home and spent two hours answering all kinds of ads for jobs in the Times; I sent out a dozen résumés. Probably nothing will come of it, but at least I’ve made a start. I’ve got to do what my grandfather did and struggle and not give up. Mom will be here tomorrow night.

Mikey picked me up at noon today for Larry’s “Bar-B-Q Extraordinaire,” and I spent the day at the beach and in Larry’s backyard with his group of friends: Mike and Cindy, Stuie and Ann, Jeff and Lillian, Steve and Robin, and several other couples. There were about eight children under 3 years old, and it was both fun and tiring being with them.

I enjoyed myself, even though these people were not really my type: they are solid Jewish family people, accountants, dentists, lawyers, ex-Brooklyn College Jewish-American Princes and Princesses. But they have their dreams, too, and I can’t condescend to them.


Monday, July 21, 1980

nyt-july-21-19805 PM. It’s 102° out now, and like most people, I’m feeling miserable. In an hour I’m going to the airport to pick up Mom – though what help she’ll be to me, I can’t imagine.

Grandma Ethel and I just came from visiting Grandpa Herb in New York Hospital, and the trip in a car without air-conditioning was a strain on both of us.

Marc hasn’t called our grandparents once in the last week, and I’m totally disgusted with him. My uncle is not much help, either, but obviously Marty has his work to do: one of his partners got out, and Grandpa Herb told me things in Marty’s business are going badly.

dayton-bdwlkBut as much as I love my grandparents, I do resent bearing most of the burden. When I got to Grandma Ethel’s this morning, she told me she’d had an attack of diarrhea.

She misplaced Grandpa Herb’s hospital phone number, and I called patient information about a two dozen times, each time getting a busy signal. In the end, we decided to go to Manhattan anyway.

Grandpa Herb had another liver scan this morning, and Dr. Libby said that on Thursday he’ll let him know whether surgery is feasible.

interferonThen Grandpa must decide to have the operation or to go without it and take his chances. He knows that if he decides not to have it now and then changes his mind later, he will just have to go through all these weeklong tests all over again.

If he does have the surgery, he’s liable to be in the hospital another two weeks. Obviously I can’t get a job or do anything until that time is over. I’m in limbo. I’ve got to sell the diamond ring now; I have no other choice.

Listen to this:

Some basically nice people cross the pages of this, Grayson’s first full-length collection of stories. They could be your next-door neighbors; indeed, if you live in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City, they may very well be your next door neighbors. The people are very nice people, ones you would be pleased to see succeed and be happy. But they won’t be, and that is what is so sad. Life will see to it that they can’t be happy.

mill-reviewLife starts the grinding down process at a very early age. Grayson repeatedly returns to the traumas of childhood. . .

Grayson’s stories are replete with ignoble events. But life is more than merely ignoble. It can also be cruel. It wounds people. The Grayson narrator is often in therapy. Many of his characters are in therapy. Ann, in “Aspects of Ann,” finds life complicated due to relationships. . .

People are trying to connect with each other, but failing. In “Classified Personal,” the poignancy of this failure comes through ads placed by people looking to meet other persons for sexual or other kinds of rendezvous. In “The Princess from the Land of Porcelain,” Leslie discovers love only at the end of the story, and then only in a dream. The story ends: “She stirred out of sleep. She tried to get back into the dream.”

Life cruelly dashes the dreams of the characters in these stories. The characters are nice people; the world, on the other hand, is not nice.

princess-porcelainGrayson’s stories, of course, contain much more than I’ve been discussing here. I’ve been following this line of argument because I have a thesis concerning Grayson, namely that the impulse behind his work is social criticism. That thesis would explain the repeated use he makes of pathos. Pathos debases the world in order to criticize it.

Characters caught in such a world fail or suffer due to no fault of their own—if anything, such characters are too good for the world they inhabit, possessing virtues, a delicate sensibility, that make it impossible to adapt to the debased world. They suffer because the world is flawed.

Seeing the pathetic fall of the characters makes the reader want to rise in opposition to the world, thus achieving the goals of Grayson’s social criticism.

stop-the-draft-1980This is from Kevin Urick’s perceptive review of Hitler in The Mill. No one’s ever caught the social criticism angle of my work before, and it’s nice to see Kevin put that in writing.

Today, for example, I felt that everything around me was more than I could bear. There was pathos in my selling of my ID bracelet, pathos in Grandma Ethel’s plight, and Grandpa Herb’s; even at the post office, when I picked up my mail, I felt depressed seeing those beautiful muscular 20-year-old Rockaway boys registering for the first day of the draft, or whatever they call the fodder for the war machine now.

When Avis called this morning to remind me about Teresa’s dinner party tomorrow night, I told her I wasn’t sure I could make it. Mom can’t drive to Manhattan, so while she’s here I’m not going to have any days off.

I feel I have a burden that none of my friends have. When Gary called this heat-wave-death-1980morning, I brushed him off with a quick “I can’t talk now.” Josh, who said it was too hot for him to put on a suit and go job-hunting, wanted to do something today, but of course I couldn’t.

Alice seems to lead an obligation-free life. Of course there’s Janice, who Alice told me is no longer working and is in very bad shape. (Janice’s calligraphy book came out.)

Yes, life is pathetic. My grandparents, Josh, Janice, Avis and everybody else (including me) are too good for the world. On Saturday night Grandpa Herb told me, “You’ll always find some nice people wherever you go,” and that that’s the one thing to go on living for. TC mark

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