A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1974


Tuesday, September 10, 1974

I don’t know where I am, but I feel exhausted and under terrible pressure. In a way, things are working out fine: I’m doing well on my job, and the MFA program looks good – but I feel caged in, trapped by time. I don’t know: maybe I’ve just taken too much upon myself.

Or is that that I’m unable to cope with adult responsibility? I don’t want to end up like this hard-driving stockbroker I saw this morning when I was taking a medical exam to prove I’m not a junkie.

Tonight Mom told me, in practically the same breath, not to feel pressured (I’ve had a headache for eight straight hours – all tension – and now my stomach is churning) and then says Dad’s business is failing and he’s going into something else where he’s not going to make as much money.

And prices just keep rising higher and higher. I don’t know; I just want to cry. And me: what am I doing with my life? Damn my persistence: maybe I should have swallowed all my Triavils in the motel room last week.

Oh yes, Mrs. Ehrlich: I’m probably just overreacting, and if we probe psychically, I’m sure we can come up with some reason why I feel this way, but does that change the facts?

I did call Mrs. Ehrlich tonight and told her I couldn’t make the appointment tomorrow evening after work; yesterday she’d called me to say that an emergency had arisen and she couldn’t keep our Tuesday hour. I went along with her suggestion that that we meet in an office uptown, but today I realized that I just couldn’t do it.

I have to hand in a story to Baumbach by Thursday, and if I go tomorrow, it will mean that I will get home, very tired, at 9 PM or so, and there’ll be no time to work.

So our next appointment is next Tuesday night, Rosh Hashona: but neither of us observes the holiday. (In class today, Baumbach and everyone immaturely tried to look sophisticated by feigning ignorance of what holiday it was.)

Anyway, let’s calm down and get chronological: I woke up at 7 AM after a night of light sleep (and a dream in which Ivan came over and got chummy with my parents, calling them by their first names; he would do that, I know it) and I took a bus to the Junction and a train to Wall Street.

At the Sullivan & Cromwell office, I went to see Mrs. Dress, who gave me forms to fill out, sent me to a doctor for an examination, showed me how to punch in and out, got me a dust jacket (Ronna later asked me if I felt like a book, and I didn’t get it right away), and took me down to the library.

Mrs. Wetherill sent me up to 20 to help Ann-Marie rearrange some bookshelves – all tax books – then I filed some CCH Reporters (I’m no dope, I learn fast) and after that, I dusted and rearranged Congressional Records.

“Not a bad first day’s work,” Mrs. Wetherill said when I left at 2 PM, and in truth, although the work is menial, the time went quickly, and the other people there – Gigi Klein and a night student at Brooklyn College, Howard Glick – are very friendly.

I went back to BC, gobbled up a burger special at Campus Corner (“Why are you alone?” the old lady owner asked me when I paid my bill. “I’ve never seen you here without friends”) and then I breezed into LaGuardia, where I was greeted by Mike, kissed hello by Kathy (why does she always kiss me?), and told by Vito’s friend Frank that Europe was great.

The Fiction Workshop was held in the new extension of Ingersoll Hall, the science building. Besides me, Josh and Barbara, there are only a few others in the class. We discussed the program and talked about novelists.

When asked who our favorite contemporary writers are, I said Roth, Bellow, Lessing, Jong, DeVries, Nabokov and Salinger. Baumbach said he didn’t like Huxley, “although, not to sound condescending, when I was your age, I too liked Point Counter Point.”

Baumbach will be my adviser, and I’m really – yes, really – excited about the MFA program.

Oh, so much else is going on: I spoke to Alice and Allan; I voted in the primary; Susan’s mother is in the hospital; Gary’s sister had a car accident. But no more room to write on this page!

Thursday, September 12, 1974

For the first time in several days, I did not have to resort to a single Tylenol today. I attribute this entirely to my call to Mrs. Dress this morning, telling her I wouldn’t be coming in anymore. (It wasn’t as hard to quit Sullivan & Cromwell as I thought it would be.)

When people say, “My job is a real headache,” I know exactly what they mean. Yet the experience was a good one: I learned that I’m capable of working if I choose to, and I was introduced, for however briefly, to the intricacies of giant Wall Street law firms (sure to be put in some future fiction).

Looking back, I see that my decision to take the job stemmed from my motel-room resolve: I wanted to prove to myself that I can go into action if I’m given the impetus.

I returned home this morning, by which I mean to Brooklyn College and LaGuardia Hall. I’m aware that the milling freshmen are seven years younger than me, but I look as youthful as them. No one would suspect I’m an “elder statesman,” as Melvin called me.

I walked Mara to the train and Vito to the bank (he was on campus to get letters of recommendation to graduate school – at BC itself), and I passed Carl, Tom and Elayne on the street or on campus.

And finally I settled down in front of LaGuardia – it was a hot day – into a circle of people that a passing Vice President Hilary Gold called “the government in exile.”

Mike is our deposed leader. He was composing a letter and brooding about not having a job. I hugged Mason hello: he’s the same barefoot boy, hanging loose. Mason was with his friend Patty, one of his “favorite people” – but she’s taken. (Later, Mike said, “That never stopped Mason.”)

Libby joined us: her summer share over, she’s back home again with her mother and brother in Park Slope. They told me that Avis arrived home on Monday and has been trying to call me all week to say hello and invite me to a party on Saturday night.

Sid said he liked California and eventually plans to move to San Francisco; he also asked about Ronna. Cindy, Kenny and Brendan all sat around with us: the faces change, but that’s all.

Joy is finally warming up to me, and I find her surprisingly sweet. She said she had a lousy summer working and wants to leave Brooklyn College, feeling she’ll do better in a school away from home. She also told me that Costas has been having a rough time looking for a job in advertising.

When I kissed Mandy hello, she asked me to go to Campus Corner for lunch with her. At the next table were Elise and Sue, who’s been working very long hours for the start-of-semester bookstore rush.

Mandy gave me very good news: Debbie made Downstate, and tomorrow she begins nursing school. How great for Debbie. Over our burgers, Mandy and I had a long talk, and I realized there’s a lot behind that swivel-hipped, outrageously made-up girl in the platform shoes.

She told me how she posed as Skip’s girlfriend at his graduation in 1973 and how Skip’s parents loved her, invited her down to Arlington, and gave Skip $500 because of her. (It’s hard to believe they don’t realize he’s gay. Vito says parents “see what they want to see.”)

But posing as Skip’s girlfriend was a lie that made her feel so bad that she got sick afterwards. Mandy said she heard Leon had a fight with Skip and sent him a nasty letter, saying never to come to Madison again. They were such good friends when I traveled with them to Florida two years ago; I think it’s sad.

But Mandy said she always found Leon to be malicious. She’ll always remember him at Scott’s graduation party, wearing that “Zippie” T-shirt that he got in Miami. And she revealed that on that night – “one of the worst in my life” – Skip stole “The Koestners” sign from in front of Scott’s house.

Mandy said she thinks Shelli was “very good-natured” but had “many, many problems” and that Jerry wasn’t strong enough to deal with them: “He didn’t provide Shelli with the necessary discipline.”

Finally Mandy said, “But that whole crowd – Skip, Leon, and Shelli and Jerry – all remind me of a time in my life that I’d rather forget.”

I’m getting really excited about being in our MFA Fiction Workshop. Today we got to know one another and exchanged phone numbers. My story was too long to go over, so we read this girl Dorothy’s story, about an obsessed woman, which was kind of dreamlike.

Baumbach is more like a friend than a teacher, and he makes me more comfortable and more inclined to write. He said that starting in November, we could all be first readers of manuscripts for the Fiction Collective – which is doing very well.

Sunday, September 15, 1974

I had a really fine time at Avis’s last night. How odd that I once dreaded parties. Now I love them: the chance to see old friends and meet new people.

Early in the evening I picked up Allan Cooper at a relative’s house in Sheepshead Bay; his mother is visiting him from Florida and they were staying there overnight.

When Avis opened the door, we greeted each other with a hug as tight as the one we had when she left.

Libby was about to go into the shower, so Avis sat me and Allan down in the living room – her parents are moving next month – and told us all about her life in Germany, as she continued to do throughout the evening.

It’s not hard to tell that she really loves it there, aside from how much she adores Helmut. She talked about the freaky kids in Germany and the loving mothers, including Helmut’s, whom he adores. His mother came over one day to clean up their place, and Helmut was pleased, not annoyed. Helmut’s father is a violent fascist whom he hasn’t spoken to in years.

Everyone is blond in Germany, Avis said, so her long black hair is a curiosity. She told us about seeing the Berlin Wall and going over to East Berlin, where Helmut’s uncle is a high-level functionary in the Communist government.

After Allan and me, the first guest to arrive – on bicycle – was Jacob, whom Avis hugged. We greeted each other warmly although I barely recognized Jacob with his hair cut short and his new beard.

Avis’s friend and fellow-traveler Glen arrived next: he’s a nice guy, tall with a goatee, a poet and short story writer who’s going for an M.A. in English at UCLA this year. The next pair to arrive gave me an enthusiastic hello: my old compañeras, Teresa and Nancy.

Teresa quickly filled me in on her life: her work for the Park Avenue doctor (she told me Rex Reed has hemorrhoids), her affair this summer with a divorced man (it ended badly, of course), news of her ex-boyfriends (Roger is now into girls, he claims), and news of Spring and Sean, who have started going out again.

Spring is going to Barnard now, and Teresa said she’s jealous: Teresa feels she can’t take the outside world so come January she’s thinking of returning to BC, to grad school.

Nancy is teaching biology and oceanography at Beach Channel High in Rockaway and told us funny, Nancy-ish stories about the kids who are her students.

Mason came with Steven, a fellow counselor at the Fresh Air Fund camp, who’s very into his Jewish heritage – he’s taking a Yiddish class at Queens College – and we had a discussion with Glen and Jacob and decided that anti-Semitism could lead to another genocide someday.

Davey arrived with Fred, who knew me from Mikey’s party, and Fred’s girlfriend Vivian, a blonde, chubby freshman at BC. Brendan and Louise came late because Brendan had been arranging games at a Park Slope block party all day.

I told Louise to look for Debbie at Downstate and maybe look after her a bit as she gets started. Louise, always so nice, said she would and said she’ll be giving a vegetarian dinner at the nursing school dorms and asked me to come.

We smoked a joint that Jacob brought and ate Libby’s homemade apple crisp, and Teresa, Libby, Davey, Fred, Allan and I reminisced about the old Safari Award days.

Avis said her sister finally got a good job: Ellen is running the Carnegie Hall Cinema. That sounds amazing.

Melvin called and asked if Teresa, Nancy and I wanted to come over to his apartment afterwards – Phyllis and Timmy were there, he said – but we declined.

Somehow, not thinking of Teresa’s presence, Libby let it slip that Joy took Costas to a hotel room last night to celebrate his birthday. Teresa was appropriately bitchy. (Later, Libby said to me, “I have a big mouth,” and I said, “You and me both.”)

It was very pleasant as we went, shoeless, from room to room, getting high and drinking Sant’gria and getting into conversations. Everyone jokes that they tell me all the best gossip to give me material for my novel.

At one point in the night, I found myself lying with my shirt mostly unbuttoned on Avis’s parents’ bed with Avis, Libby, Nancy and Teresa.

“Wow,” I said, “this is the first time I’ve ever been in bed with four girls,” at which point they all started to grab me playfully, and I heard Teresa say, “Eight years of therapy and this is all you really needed!”

When I went out into the living room, Mason asked me why I was blushing.

We all sat around on the floor talking – me and Davey, Teresa and Libby, Nancy and Glen – until after 2 AM, when all of us left except Mason and Libby – and, of course, Avis.

After I dropped off Nancy, then Allan (“I liked seeing the old crowd again”), and finally Glen, I came home from the party feeling very happy.

Tuesday, September 17, 1974

5 PM. A light drizzle began a few minutes ago; it’s raining harder now, but it’s still light out.

To escape the Rosh Hashona doldrums late this afternoon, I went to Telepathy and had my hair cut. Joe is very proud of his new salon, and justifiably so, because the place looks terrific.

Joe’s hair stylings are always a tonic for me, with the good sensuous feelings of having my hair shampooed and brushed, and Joe’s easy conversational style. So far just he and Diane, his girlfriend, are there, but they hope to put in five more chairs.

I came home and we had a pleasant dinner: turkey, sweet potatoes and corn. Dad was tired from playing tennis with Joel and his brother Stephen all afternoon.

Marc has been upset lately; the other night, he asked me for a tranquilizer. I think it has something to do with Fern; there have been bad vibrations from phone calls and she didn’t come in from Stony Brook for the Jewish holidays.

But all was harmony at dinner, and I think I’m in pretty good shape to do what I have to tonight: end my career, at least temporarily, as an analysand.

We’re approaching hard times, with the possibility of another Great Depression around the corner.

In yesterday’s Post, Pete Hamill had a column that positively evoked panic; Evie and Lou and Mom and Dad and I discussed over the kitchen table last night. Lou, a stockbroker, says things are bad but not all that bad, and he felt the piece was irresponsible journalism, bringing up bugaboos like how the banks may fail at any time.

Anyway, with Dad’s business in bad shape, even if I do get another part-time job soon, I believe that therapy has become a luxury for me. If not a luxury, then at least it’s not a necessity the way it was three, five, seven, Rosh Hashonas ago.

(It’s hard to believe that my Rosh Hashona in the Village was five whole years ago: where are Brad, Daniel, Seth, and that dirty old man in Washington Square Park now?)

I feel I have the tools inside me to “work out” the remaining big stumbling blocks before me (and there are many). I have a lot of fears, frustrations and fantasies that are still left unexplored. But I can’t go on forever, becoming a parody of a person in therapy.

Last night in his speech, President Ford, hoping to end the furor over the Nixon pardon, said that Rosh Hashona is a time for closing the book on the past year and moving on to the next one.

It’s time for me, too, to move on to the next level. I’m scared to be without Mrs. Ehrlich, and I’m scared to tell her of my decision – but it hasn’t been a spur-of-the-moment thing. I’ve given it a lot of thought.

Ever since that night I spent at the airport motel, I’ve felt that I can handle life as an adult on my own. Perhaps I’ll flop. Well, then, I can always go back to therapy if the necessity arises.

I’ll miss the probing of the sessions, the insights, the good feelings I got from them – but maybe I can duplicate all that on my own. I have my writing, after all, and maybe that will provide me an outlet for a lot of things stored up inside me.

Even if “The Peacock Room” is basically soap opera, in the story, I handle some of the things I’ve been “working through”: bisexuality and its dilemmas, fear of death and fear of change, jealousy and dependence.

I haven’t figured out exactly how things will work out for my character, Leslie Kiviak, but I know she’ll have grown by the story’s end. I believe I can grow through experience, too.

These things will be tough to tell Mrs. Ehrlich, and I’m certain she’ll say that I’m copping out, running away from unsolved problems. She’ll ask: “Why did you pick now to quit therapy?”

I’m not afraid of the answers we might find. She would have asked the question any time I decided to leave, and I’m sure we could come up with pretty heavy answers for any of these times. But I won’t return to therapy until I can pay for it myself.

Wednesday, September 18, 1974

I find it difficult to write about my session with Mrs. Ehrlich, probably because she’s correct in her opinion that I’m repressing a lot of emotion dealing with leaving therapy.

When I told her of my decision at the beginning of the session, she urged me to return several more times so that we could make a smoother transition to live without her.

I was adamant about not taking another $25 check from Dad when his financial position is so precarious (I even feel a bit guilty about the $8,000 or so spent on my therapy since 1966, but Mrs. Ehrlich said that I didn’t keep anyone else in the family from going into therapy.)

But now I wonder if I have been too hasty. Although I’m not sure my decision was hasty at all. Mrs. Ehrlich believes my decision “to take a sabbatical” is partly based on anger toward her for charging me for that July session and for going on vacation and for canceling last week’s make-up session.

She pointed out, quite correctly, that it was I who agreed to the make-up session on Wednesday and then changed my mind – I think for valid reasons. Mrs. Ehrlich said that I wanted to leave before I began another year with her and got dependent upon her.

I couldn’t argue with any of those things. Whether or not it’s the games therapists play, you can never win arguments with them because you’re always subjective while they’re “objective.” That’s part of the reason I wanted to stop going.

And I’m definitely not closing the door on therapy. I can call Mrs. Ehrlich for an appointment any time I need one. She made that clear, and I’ve never been the sort to let pride stand in my way.

I’ll miss her personally and professionally; I told her that. And she said that she knows that and she’ll miss our sessions, too. It was hard to leave last night: I felt sad, and Mrs. Ehrlich said there was an anger about my sadness, too.

I asked her if she was angry with me for leaving her, and she said, “I think you’re projecting your feelings onto me.” Naturally.

Avis had invited me over after the session, and I remembered her telling me that “nobody in Germany rushes off to shrinks.”

Helmut’s friend Rolf was emotionally upset and physically sick for a year in which he didn’t leave the house. (I’m finding out that I have more in common with many people than I ever realized.) But Rolf and his family and friends just waited it out, and Rolf got better, without any formal therapy.

“There are many kinds of therapy,” I told Mrs. Ehrlich when I related that story. She said, though, that therapy provides a kind of “support system.” I replied that I felt I had an internal support system now.

At one point she said I was running away, but then she said that I’d made a great deal of progress in therapy – not just since I was 15 but even since the first time I saw her, I managed to integrate a lot of my personality.

So we said goodbye, finally, and I left her loft and the building on Atlantic Avenue and entered a new level of life, a life without therapy. I’m no longer, at least temporarily, The Eternal Analysand.

I did go to Avis’s, and she was a good person to talk to at that time, having been to therapy and left it (announcing it at one final session, like me). She understood the decision and why I felt I must be on my own, being an adult without plunking down $25 a week for someone to guide me.

Who knows? Perhaps I’ve made the worst mistake of my life – but nothing is irreversible but death.

Avis and I were joined by Alan Karpoff for some mint tea and warmed-over pizza. (Libby had gone upstate with Melvin, to register his car at his grandmother’s farm in Fleischmanns.)

Alan said that Bolivia was a fine experience, and so was summer camp with the disabled kids. Both he and Avis are sorry to see the summer end.

We chatted quietly until midnight, when I left them alone, went home, spoke to Ronna on the phone, and then had a long, life-giving twelve-hour sleep.

I met Karin at noon today in LaGuardia, because she wanted to borrow an old textbook of mine. She said she was surprised that I’d called her about it and that I was so generous: “I quite misjudged you,” Karin said.

And you know how Mr. Grayson loves for people to like him, so that made me feel good.

I met Stanley, slimmer than ever, who said that Leon is back, that he met Leon at MOMA on Tuesday. No sooner did Stanley mention that Leon was coming to school today than Leon appeared.

His hair is cut short and styled, and he’s grown a sparse, well-kept beard – “a faggot beard, not a hippie beard,” was how Leon described it – but he looks the same as always. He smiled and said hello, and I did the same.

Mason, who had seen him before, and Mike and Cindy, who hadn’t, came over and sat with us. Leon came in from Madison with all his possessions, and he’s living temporarily at his aunt’s house until he can strike out on his own.

Leon has been looking for a job, rather unsuccessfully, and said if he doesn’t find anything by next week, he’ll be really depressed. Mason advised smoking dope, but Leon said he wouldn’t do that until he’s employed.

Leon enjoyed working with the mentally retarded in Madison and misses his friends, the patients; he quit when they instituted strict behavior therapy. He wants to get a master’s in Film or in Social Work.

Leon said that Skip is in graduate school in Syracuse – so I guess they’re friendly again – and he said he’d be calling me to ask for Allan’s number at work; he doesn’t want to call Allan at home and take the chance of getting Elihu.

I suppose I haven’t fully gotten over the stage of needing approval from Leon, but I’m enough of a person to know I don’t need him now for me to feel secure with the other friends.

He left to talk to Marie Giuriceo, the Comp Lit teacher. Prof. Merritt came over and said hello to us after Mason had called out his name as he passed.

Then we had lunch at the Pub, where Mason talked about Avis’s new job – at this advertising agency in midtown – and Mason’s own desire to get away from Brooklyn College.

Later, I sat down on the grass with Elayne and Mason’s friend Patty. Elayne expressed an interest in seeing Leon and said that despite what he told me, Leon might want to see Elihu now that Elihu’s in what she called “a druggy phase.”

Elayne answered Patty’s question asking whether Melvin and Libby are “getting it on” with a probable yes; they still haven’t returned from upstate. She said that Melvin is still anxious about hearing from Stefanie, hoping that that relationship will come to a head.

But Elayne believes that Melvin doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. She feels Libby is “kind of dumb” and still has a thing for Mason – as well as a thing from David from Connecticut and also Nicky.

And Elayne called her own relationship with Leroy “an iffy, off-and-on thing.”

Yolanda came by, saying she was trying to avoid listening to any more of Alex’s stories about Europe, and then – just as Leon came soon after Stanley mentioned him – Stefanie appeared, saying she had a good time in Chicago.

When Stefanie heard I was starting the two-year creative writing MFA program, she said, “Aren’t you nauseous of Brooklyn College already?” I guess not.

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