A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1983

Wednesday, June 1, 1983

11 PM in Rockaway. Again I slept heavily because of clogged sinuses, and I had trouble breaking out of my dreams, so I didn’t get up until around 10:30 AM.

For a change, it was a sunny day, so I walked over to Beach 116th Street. I bought the papers, browsed in the library (on the Magazine Index, they rated Publishers Weekly’s review of the new book a B, compared with the same grade for With Hitler in New York and a C+ for Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog), bought contact lens cleaner, and for old times’ sake, had a slice of pizza at Ciro’s on the Boulevard.

Back here, Grandma was entertaining Irene Krasner, her always-delightful girlhood friend. When they went out for a walk – it was already getting cloudy – I watched soap operas and exercised for a couple of hours.

Both Grandma and Irene remarked that I’d lost weight, and while that isn’t true – according to the scale, I’m still at 165 – I don’t look all that bad. It felt good to work up a sweat with stretching and aerobic exercises and the classic old sit-ups and push-ups.

This really isn’t such a bad way to spend a day; I feel pretty relaxed. I need a haircut badly but am nervous about entrusting myself to a stranger. I could go to Joseph tomorrow, but that would mean a trip to Manhattan. I’d rather go back to Teresa’s on Friday, I think.

At the post office today, I mailed out all my letters, but I still have to send some books back to Florida.

When I think about finances, I begin to get nervous. I owe about $1200 in credit card bills although none of that is due immediately. If I didn’t have credit, I’d be sunk.

The job at FIU didn’t come through, obviously, or I’d have heard from Jim Hall by now. I’m going to have a hard time making ends meet, but I do have the inventory of copies of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog to sell off.

I’m going to have to hustle a little, but that will be an interesting challenge.

When I called Mom, she said she sent me out some letters via special delivery. The article in the Fort Myers News-Press arrived, and with it, a color slide that she’s having made into photos.

After Grandma and I had dinner – hamburgers and French fries – she went off to play cards. Poor Grandma: I had to make out her rent check, show her how to raise the volume on the TV, and do other simple tasks for her.

What’s sad is that her helplessness is real, that it stems from a genuine lack of self-confidence. She repeats herself terribly and seems obsessed with preparing meals.

Prof. Wilson from the University of Missouri-Kansas City called, and when Grandma handed me the phone, she said, “It’s for you, Herb.” (Last night when I sneezed while she was in the bathroom, she at first thought it was Grandpa calling her “Eth.”)

Anyway, I told Wilson I wasn’t coming for an interview because I got another job. It was an embarrassing lie, but a typical Grayson muddle. Shit. Will I never learn?

When I called Teresa, she said Ted’s visit turned out to be a disaster. Ted came on like he and Teresa were still in their relationship eight years ago in California.

She didn’t want to sleep with him, and she said that when she spent time with a guy she’d met on the beach this weekend, Ted left Fire Island in a huff.

(Actually, you need a ferry to get to Bay Shore; even in Ted’s wheelchair, a huff will only get you to the dock.)

I also phoned Gary, who enjoyed his Mexico trip and likes his new job with Citicorp.

A bit bored tonight, I thought I’d read a little of Todd’s story, but it was such a page-turner, I couldn’t turn it down. “The Abduction of Gavilan” is about Todd’s ultimately successful search for his ’63 Corvette, stolen from the hospital the night Todd’s son was born.

The story is exciting, but its length – 80 pages – will make it hard to market; it also might be more salable as nonfiction.


Friday, June 3, 1983

10 PM. It’s the eve of my 32nd birthday, and I’m in Teresa’s bed while she’s off to Fire Island.

I just came back from dinner at a Sixth Avenue deli with Alice, who has the cold that I think I’m coming down with.

She and Peter have both been very busy and just returned from a travel writers’ junket to Barbados. They seem quite happy together these days, and I think they deserve to be; they have worked hard to work out their differences as a couple.

Last fall, Peter started therapy, and now he’s decided to give up the theater entirely; it was enormously frustrating for him these last few years.

But least he’s succeeded with his nonfiction and young adult books. He’s just signed the contract for his sixth book.

Peter now contributes half the rent money, and while he and Alice feel sad that he’s put aside his dream of having a play on (or off-) Broadway, it was destroying him to feel so unfulfilled.

Alice surprised me by saying that if the right job offer came in, she might even consider leaving New York. Peter isn’t wedded to Manhattan.

For now, though, they plan to stay in their Village apartment and fix it up. The rent is only $350 through 1985, so they can afford lots of other stuff.

Yesterday, I left Grandma’s at 3 PM. It took two solid hours to get from Rockaway to Chelsea, and while I stewed on various buses and trains, I thought about the difference between the outer-borough losers of Rockaway (the industrial-era people?) and the Manhattan winners (the people of the information age).

I got to Joseph’s early, so he took me right away, and he did a good a job on my hair. I hung around and chatted until Teresa’s hair got finished.

It turned out to be a good thing that I was in Rockaway on Wednesday night because Teresa’s friend from the weekend, Howard, unexpectedly stayed over at the apartment.

While Teresa likes him, she’s wary because it’s so early in the season; most guys want time to look around further, to wait at least until the alternate-weekend women show up.

Tired, Teresa didn’t want to have dinner out, so we called in for Chinese food, and Juliana came upstairs to join us for dinner.

Mom and Dad, my brothers, and Alice all sent me birthday cards.

I also got the Fort Myers article, which was okay but not great; I didn’t like being called “pudgy.” “Chunky,” yes; “stocky,” sure; even “chubby” or “paunchy” would have been a lot better. And the photo was terrible.

I didn’t sleep well last night and woke up feeling queasy. Stupidly, this morning I gave Teresa’s work number to a woman who turned out to work for a collection agency for Lord & Taylor, to whom Teresa owes a fortune. Naturally, Teresa was upset at me.

I had lots of errands to do – laundry, cleaners, post office, grocery – and then I was supposed to deliver a package to Amira at the Y in exchange for a pass to the gym. But Amira never showed up, and I left the package with an office of hers.

Realizing I was short on cash, I went to Citibank and got some money on my Visa card, putting me further in debt.

Elihu came over at 3 PM. His doctor gave him a clean bill of health, but I was surprised at the extent to which Elihu participates in anonymous sex.

He says he believes sex should be exciting, and he loves the danger of public sex. Elihu’s fantasy is to have sex on top of the Empire State building, and he told me about his experiences in Brooklyn Heights playgrounds.

It’s hard for me to think of him as the same quiet boy I sat next to in social studies class in high school.

I’ve never had sex outside of relationships while Elihu says he’s never really “dated.” I can’t understand why anyone would enjoy his kind of sex, but Elihu says he can’t understand why I like “sanitized sex” or teenage boys (“They’re too innocent; I prefer jaded men”).

Now, because of AIDS, Elihu says he’ll just enjoy voyeurism. Hmm.

Thinking about all my friends, sometimes I think so many of us baby boomers are so used to living alone that we’ve constructed lives in which a live-in partner will not fit in.

That’s why I’m glad that Alice and Peter have managed to make living together work for them.


Saturday, June 4, 1983

I can’t imagine a happier birthday. For my failures of the imagination, I give thanks.

An hour ago I walked on West End Avenue to 81st Street and then turned onto Broadway. At Shakespeare & Company, I browsed until I finally decided I was worth the $14 for a self-birthday present, John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist. This next year, I will become one, I hope.

Then I went to Zabar’s and managed to limit myself to two croissants, some toasted-onion cream cheese and ice-cold key lime sorbet, all of which are happily in my stomach now.

At 79th Street, I picked up tomorrow’s big Times, and turning west, I saw the fiery orange sun setting between New Jersey high-rises.

I mean, can you top that? Here I am, alone in a gorgeous New York apartment, lying on a comfortable bed, listening to jazz on some Newark radio station, a cluster of multicolored birthday balloons hanging overhead.

Last night I had an earache and didn’t sleep well, so I stayed up for SCTV and NBC News Overnight.

I was having a dream about being in the old neighborhood back in Brooklyn: there was a party in the backyard, and from the second floor of a nearby building an Italian family was sending down balloons, which I promptly pushed back up to them in an impromptu game.

Then the doorbell rang, and wearing only my gym shorts, I groggily made my way to the door. Judy and one of her kids were there, along with a strange man who asked, “Are you Richard Grayson?” and then gave me a handful of Mylar balloons.

I was stunned. The card read, “Happy birthday to the best roommate ever – Love, Teresa.” I can’t believe how good she is to me. She called from Fire Island, imploring me to come out.

Mikey and Amy, whom she met on the train to the ferry last night, also got on the line to wish me a happy day and to tell me to get my ass on the ferry to Fair Harbor.

But the weather was lousy all day, and anyway, Teresa’s best present is to leave me alone in her Manhattan apartment. This is really living out a fantasy.

Someday I’d like to “divide my time between Manhattan and Miami.” It sounds pretentious, but could anything be more wonderful?

Jeane Dixon’s birthday horoscope in the Post tells me “those who have recently been disappointed in love are about to find new happiness. Look for someone special to enter your life. Your financial fortunes improve in the fall.”

In the Daily News, Joyce Jillson writes: “You can change everything around as help comes to take over obligations and impediments. Luck in new businesses . . . success with travels and many moves. Job hop this fall . . . expect windfalls.”

Josh was kind enough to invite me to be his guest at the St. George Health Club, so I spent the afternoon having fun in the Heights, working out on the Nautilus machines with Josh, sitting on a woman’s back as she did “donkey [calf] raises,” drinking at the juice bar with Josh and his friends Nigel and Rich, two British computer programmers.

I had a fine time although I still prefer the machines at Bodyworks, where I feel more comfortable. I also realized that at 32, I’m pretty fat. But I also know I could look a lot worse and that I’ll get better-looking as I get older.

I spoke to Mark (who had seen the Times article), to Pete (who was at work; I declined his invitation to a late dinner), and to Susan (who was exuberant about her review coming out in Newsday and others commissioned by Parnassus and Virginia Quarterly Review and who is excited that she and Spencer are going on vacation to the Outer Banks), and I left answering-machine messages with Stacy and others.

When I called Florida, Dad sounded good and said he’d been thinking about me all day. “Funny, your birthday makes me feel older than my own birthday,” Dad said. “I remember the day you were born. . . and now I can’t believe I have a 32-year-old son.”

As Barbara remarked when she came by to pick up her gown for tomorrow’s Tony Awards: “You just keep going on.”

That’s not profound, but I’m too happy to be profound.

And Sean, wherever you are: thanks for last year’s birthday.


Sunday, June 5, 1983

5 PM. I didn’t get to sleep until 5 AM and woke up fairly early, so I have a no-sleep headache.

I’ve been invited to dinner at Mark and Consuelo’s. They are now living in Bensonhurst, so I’ve got a long trip in front of me. Luckily, it’s been a warm, sunny day for a change.

Last evening, I called Cousin Michael, who at 14 is an interesting character. We didn’t talk long, but he told me about his new place in Park Slope and seeing Return of the Jedi and school and stuff.

The favorite among my cousins, Michael has both intelligence and a wonderful sense of humor; I can relate to him in a way I never could with my other cousins, all of whom are very conservative and fairly boring.

I then phoned Vito, who’s as funny as ever. His mother says of me: “Such a nice boy, but he can’t write at all.”

Vito is finished with law school finals and about to start a summer job as clerk for a Southern District Magistrate in Foley Square (“Do you think I should call her Your Magistrate?”).

Very apolitical when we were in college (it took everything I had to convince him to vote), Vito says he is now the law school radical among the 23-year-old fascists, who only want to make money.

He claims he’s the first person to recover from AIDS. We discussed old friends from college and other stuff. Perhaps we can get together this week.

This morning I groggily stayed in bed to read the papers; then at 1 PM, I took the subway downtown to Christopher Street to have lunch with Pete at Bagel And…, the sandwich shop on the site of what once was the Stonewall Inn.

Afterwards, we strolled west along Christopher to the Morton Street pier: half of gay New York seemed to be out for the afternoon.

Pete said he plans to continue to do his little (read: short) art/literary books and is taking singing lessons and practicing daily.

I gave him my book and he said he’d get me his latest the next time he visits Florida.

We parted at Sheridan Square, where tables were set up for petition-gatherers angry about the lack of AIDS research and threats to legal abortion.

Back uptown, I made reservations for a 10 AM Delta flight out of Kennedy for Monday, June 13.

Well, gotta go.

*

It’s almost midnight.

I felt better as my headache went away, and I had a good train ride into Brooklyn.

On the subway, I was struck by the multi-ethnic character of the passengers: old Hasidic men, young Chinese and Korean lovers, Puerto Rican girls with their Menudo buttons ( I ❤ XAVIER), Haitians with shopping bags, black and Italian and Irish faces. . .

What I love about America is its international character. I’d brought the new Vanity Fair, in which Jan Morris takes on Miami. She calls it a repellent but exciting and important international city and says it’s replacing New York as the mecca for immigrants.

The ride on the B train was a first for me, and I enjoyed the el over that part of Brooklyn. I got out at 86th and Bay Parkway and walked up to the Savages’ place, where I had a good chicken dinner with Mark and Consuelo and their boys, now 11 and 7, who related in great detail the plot twists of Return of the Jedi to me.

Mark and Consuelo seem comfortable together. Their differences are still there, but they appear more forgiving with each other.

Consuelo said most of their conflicts stem from a clash of North and Latin American values. She’s now teaching first grade to mostly Haitian and Puerto Rican kids in East New York, and she’s also going to NYU at night to take classes in social work.

We discussed their trip to Mexico to visit Consuelo’s family, the sorry state of education, and how to invest money we don’t have.

Mark seems happy in his proofreading job; his youngest brother, who has made it past the five-year mark following his battle with cancer, also works with him at Shearman & Sterling.

Mark still reads the Times regularly (hence he called me “Mr. President”) and has started sending out freelance articles to magazines.

We all bemoaned the rampant racism in society and how it’s now become socially acceptable to make bigoted remarks.

At 10 PM, I said I’d better go since they had a work day on Monday, but Mark was kind enough to drive me home. I had a slight anxiety/nausea attack on the drive to Manhattan, but it passed, and I don’t think Mark noticed it.

Teresa wasn’t here, so I called Fire Island; she said she’s having such a good time – I think Howard is with her – that she decided to stay at the beach house another night.

So here I am, alone again. Tonight I really need to sleep.

Having charley horse from the Nautilus feels wonderful, and maybe it will help me sleep better than I have been lately.

I feel happy. This has been one grand month.


Tuesday, June 7, 1983

11 AM. Last evening I went to Rockefeller Center to walk around, remembering my days as a messenger for the Village Voice when the area was my stomping grounds.

I looked in Fifth Avenue store windows and spent some time in St. Patrick’s before heading uptown at Grand Central.

Then I walked around Third Avenue near Bloomingdale’s, where I used to love to go to Sunday noon movies at Cinemas I and II and the Coronet and the Baronet.

I decided that I’ve become unbearably fat after looking at myself in mirrors and realizing that fat was the first adjective to describe me that would come to a stranger’s mind.

When I get back to Florida, I’ve got to concentrate on losing weight. The last month in New York, I’ve had little exercise and I’ve really pigged out.

Perhaps I can go on Weight Watchers or some system that’s not a diet but a change in eating habits. I now weigh 166 pounds and I’d like to get down to 150, which isn’t thin, but at least it’s reasonable.

Back home, I read Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, which is sensible, intelligent and compassionate; I want to go through it slowly.

(The price of hardcover books, though, is absurd. As good as the book is, it isn’t worth the $14).

I called Gary and made a dinner date for tonight; then I called Amy and Mikey and made another dinner date for tomorrow night.

Mikey said I shouldn’t expect Teresa back too early, since she seemed to be having a good time with Howard on Fire Island.

I took messages for Teresa, including ones from her ex-friend Trudy Mason, from Assemblyman Jerry Nadler, and from another ex-friend, Sharon – I wonder what she wants.

Ronna phoned and told me about her trip to Pennsylvania, her weekend in Brooklyn, and her part-time job at the Weizmann Institute. We made a lunch date for Thursday.

I didn’t get to sleep until 3 AM, but I was up at 9 AM.

– Teresa just phoned; Fire Island is so wonderful she couldn’t bear to leave. But she said she may be screwing up her relationship with Howard by coming on too strong the way she did in her relationships with Paul and Frank. We’ll talk tonight, I told her.

I’m going to hang out till late afternoon.

*

11 PM. I left the house at noon and wandered around midtown for a while, looking at Sunday’s Miami Herald at the Mid-Manhattan Library. The real estate ads seemed to indicate that there are a lot of apartments for rent at prices I can afford.

After lunch, I went to the Civic Center, where I did more walking and stopped in to see Mikey defending some alleged burglar; the voir dire seemed endless, and I stayed only an hour.

At 6 PM, I met Gary for dinner at Circles in the garment district and we had a pleasant pasta-and-veggies dinner. Gary likes his job so far; the people at Citicorp seem friendlier and more helpful than those at AmEx. Not a word was said about his Florida visit; instead, we discussed our careers and business.

For some reason, I’m fascinated by certain industries – banking and airlines, particularly. I think I could be successful in business if I wanted to do. As Gardner says, there are a lot more failed business people than there are failed writers.

Gary is dull, but I prodded him with questions about his job to make the conversation more interesting, and we even had a nice drink together afterwards at the Statler.

Back at Teresa’s, she and Betty were preparing her brief for small claims court.

On the phone, I had another good talk with Vito and learned why he decided to go to law school.

He never really tried hard as an actor: the social life in Manhattan, his easy job at the hotel newsstand, and the despair which filled him after auditions and when he’d call his answering service made him realize he couldn’t cut it in the theater.

Going to all the different social service agencies with his family, Vito learned he could argue effectively for people’s rights.

He said it was hard returning to Brooklyn, though he enjoys living with his mother, but Vito knew he’d have to give up his social life for three years.

Law school has made him a clear thinker, he says, and he intends to take any job he can get in Manhattan. Vito isn’t thrilled with his summer job as the magistrate’s clerk, but he’s doing a lot of relevant legal work.

Teresa said Fire Island is “better than ever,” and she and Howard are getting along wonderfully but she’s already asking for exclusivity – which even she realizes is unreasonable after just two weeks.

I advised her to stop worrying and enjoy the relationship weekend by weekend, day by day. She really has no choice.

I guess neurotics like us need something to worry about. Like now I’m scared because life has been too good.


Wednesday, June 8, 1983

3 PM. Being fat isn’t all that bad if the rest of your life is great. And mine is – so great it’s scary.

What would I do if I wasn’t overweight and didn’t have money problems? I’d have nothing to worry about.

God, I’ve been luckier than I ever expected I would be. I find life amazingly exciting.

It’s a gorgeous day: sunny and about 75°. I didn’t sleep all that well but I feel fine.

This morning Stacy called; it’s going to be hard for us to get together now that I’m leaving on Monday. Suddenly there seems so little time.

These past weeks have made me feel a lot better about myself. Living at Teresa’s, I feel I can walk out the door and suddenly be on Broadway, in the center of things –

A man just phoned me, wanting to know if I’d be interested in getting into the gold market. “With gold down, this is a good time to position yourself,” he said.

Huh. I can barely pay my rent. Very funny. Yet I do follow the financial news, much of which seems to be upbeat these days.

In USA Today Ken Pollack – he used to be married to Ivan’s sister, remember? – said he thinks the Dow will hit 3,000 by the end of the decade and that inflation will never go back to 1970s levels. Who knows?

I do want to invest money, if only in a CD or money market account. It seems, though, I’ll never have any extra cash to play with.

George writes that he’s sent away his letter of reference for my application for the CCLM/GE fellowship. That $5000 would be great to invest somewhere. If I intend to be a writer, I probably should learn how to make some money with money rather than with more time-consuming employment.

I’m pretty clear on my three major goals next year. The first is to write my novel. If I can do 15 pages a week, it’d be complete by next spring. That first draft I could start submitting to agents.

The second major goal is to lose weight. Exercise alone – without dieting – hasn’t helped much. I went to the 92nd St. Y today to work out (Teresa had to get some packages from Amira anyway), but I need to really concentrate on eating lots more vegetables and low-calorie dishes and less fast food and sugary stuff.

Third, I want to stop living on the edge. I need to think about my financial future and try to save money so that I’m not always living on credit. Somehow I need to find ways of making extra dollars.

I guess I also want to continue staying in the public eye, but I no longer need publicity for its own sake: I need publicity that will help my career.

And I also want to polish my speaking skills, to dress better, to have better skin. I suppose I’ve neglected discussing my teaching and my graduate studies, but I’m not overburdened with a sense of responsibility in those areas.

Why I feel optimistic, I’m not certain. One would think that I’m heading for uncertainty and that going back to school is a bit of a comedown. But as with money and fame, I act as if I’m successful – and it usually works!


Thursday, June 9, 1983

4 PM. Five weeks ago I arrived in New York. I’ve just come from picking up my tickets for Monday morning’s flight back to Fort Lauderdale, and I have decidedly mixed emotions about returning to Florida.

“Five weeks is a long time to be away from home,” I said to Teresa earlier.

“But this is your home, too,” she said in reply.

It is, I guess. I feel it is – and I don’t mean just this apartment, of course, but New York City in general.

Last night I arrived at Mikey’s apartment a bit early, and I caught Mikey and Amy in the shower. But all was cool, and we ended up having a really great evening.

They treated me to a fine dinner for my birthday. Amy picked this beautiful backyard restaurant, Under the Trees, on Bleecker Street, where I had a delicious cold chicken-and-sesame-noodle salad. (I’ve become addicted to cold sesame noodles.)

I like Amy a whole lot: she’s extremely bright, exuberant, cheerful. She reminds me of Liza Minelli, and I can see from the easy way she relates to Mikey that they’re really good for one another.

Amy said they share the same values, and that Mikey is the first guy she’s met who’s not a creep.

Obviously, they have differences: I think she’d like Mikey to be a bit more assertive and she hocks him about his weight, but he probably needs that.

She’s from Long Island, and I gather that her mother and stepfather and father are fairly comfortable; she’s been around, too, and is no dope.

We laughed a lot, and I enjoyed Mikey and Amy’s company more than I expected to; she’s livened him up from the dour guy I’ve known since freshman English. But he’s still the most honest, honorable person I know. (Too much so, his mother used to say.)

It started getting chilly after dinner, so we went to a bar on Seventh Avenue where they hang out regularly; I even managed to get down most of a glass of Grand Marnier without getting ill.

We chatted about this and that. Talking of Leon, Mikey said Leon cut off all his friends because he was afraid being gay would make a difference.

“That’s so ridiculous,” Mikey and Amy said, and I sensed they were telling me they knew about me and it was all right.

It is; everyone knows I’m gay by now, and nobody cares. I guess Josh is the only one still waiting to hear the news from my mouth. Oh, well.

(And actually, I think Leon just found everyone from Brooklyn boring after he moved to Madison and got into disco.)

I felt sickish on the train coming home, and I wasn’t sure if it was my stomach, maybe because I’m not used to alcohol, or an anxiety attack.

But I made the mistake of getting out of the subway at Times Square and trying to hail a cab to get home faster. It was let-out time on Broadway, so I couldn’t find a taxi – and added to that, I was surrounded by the dregs of the world.

I had a giant anxiety attack but I let it flow over me, and it passed. As I caught the M104 bus uptown, I gradually calmed down.

Teresa was in bed when I got home; she and Frank had met for drinks near City Hall and they’d gotten on very well for a change.

She said that Suzanne has decided to leave Jim because he won’t stop smoking pot and can’t accept the responsibility of his two teenaged kids.

Tonight Teresa will be at Suzanne’s as Jim leaves – or gets thrown out.

This afternoon, Ronna came over at 1 PM and we walked down West End to Lincoln Center. It was a gorgeous day: sunny, clear, mild without being hot. Ronna looked as pretty as ever.

We had lunch outside at the Opera Espresso, watching the passersby (including Beverly Sills) and chatting as comfortably as we always do.

The Weizmann Institute is paying her $100 a day for working three days a week, which is more money than she expected. She plans to do PR because that’s what everyone wants, and she may go to grad school for an M.P.A.

After lunch, we hugged goodbye, and then I hung out at Lincoln Center for an hour or so by myself, sitting by the fountain and watching the world go by. TC mark

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