A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1975


Tuesday, August 19, 1975

9 PM. The rest of the family is in the basement, entertaining Cousin Scott and Barbara, who’ve come for a visit before they leave for Washington.

Uncle Monty entered the hospital on Saturday because he was running 105° fever. The doctors have diagnosed it as pneumonia. Luckily (if I dare use that phrase), it’s in the lung that has already collapsed; if it was in the other lung, it would be all over.

Monty must know what Hell is. Aunt Sydelle says he hasn’t eaten a thing in days and just was fading away even before the illness. I suppose the pneumonia was brought on by the chemotherapy weakening him. I’d visit him, but Aunt Sydelle told Dad he doesn’t want to see people.

I don’t know how long Monty has. It’s a shame we’re so cruel to the dying: we don’t let them express their fears and their anger.

Today was a beautiful day, the kind of bright, mild weather we sometimes get around the middle of August following the dog days. I wrote and did research most of the day, so I was content.

When I can write, I feel marvelously free. Now I’m interested in telling stories, which is one of the most important (and interesting) things to do in life.

On Friday, Melvin and Morty told me about a friend of Leroy’s, a brilliant guy, who got a 98 on his high school English Regents. On the test, an essay question said, “Write a composition on your favorite place,” and he started his essay, “My favorite place is the vagina . . .” and went on from there.

That’s a great story, and so is the one Miss Belfer told about when she was an exchange student in France and she tutoyed (used the familiar) the director of the Institute and everyone sat around shocked, waiting for the distinguished old man to explode. Instead, he just patted her on the head and said, “Petite Americaine.”

My oldest friend Alice understands about people being important. She showed me her story on Mr. Blumstein and his artwork that just came out in the Kings Courier.

Last night I had a dream and this morning I wrote it up as a surreal story, for some reason using the third person and a character named August Billings.

The dream started with Mikey telling me how he liked my body; he wasn’t attracted to me sexually, of course: he just felt my body was comfortable and pleasant. I told him, quite honestly, that I felt the same way about his body.

Then I proceeded to tell him a long story about Ronna, Susan, Felicia and Zsa Zsa Gabor letting gasoline out of the pumps of the crooked service station owner they all worked for.

The next thing I knew in the dream, I was with Ronna: it was a Saturday night and we were walking up a street when suddenly she entered a shoe store and took an escalator upstairs.

Everyone there recognized Ronna for the film star that she was, but I couldn’t catch up with her. It was like the Oscar Awards upstairs, and I tried to find Ronna, but a million girls looked like her and kept calling to me and a bunch of other guys.

Then Ivan’s mother said I could sit with her at her table in the back; she said she owed it to me. Ivan’s mother, it turned out, was Ronna’s agent, and someone asked her how it felt to work for a big star like Ronna.

I could only think about how I’d have to walk home alone and how that scared me. And that, basically, was what the story was.

I also wrote a one-page story based on my “J’ai besoin du . . .” dream. It’s a trick story, one of those where a person wakes up from a dream only to find he’s in someone else’s dream, a bit of Buñuel and Borges there.

Mom did not stop harassing me all day, and she’s making it exceedingly difficult for me to keep to the diet. Still, I’ve got a fighting chance (underline that fighting). Poor woman, she’s becoming permanently affixed with a scowl.

Friday, August 22, 1975

It gets dark so early these days. There’s no doubt about it: autumn is coming. Next weekend is Labor Day weekend; the following Wednesday, I register for classes, and a week later, the fall term will begin.

I had another bad dream again last night: I dreamed that Uncle Ralph was still alive but dying and that Uncle Monty was dying too, and Aunt Sydelle was doubly upset because she was losing both her husbands at the same time.

Last evening Mom vented her hostility toward Sydelle; I suppose in part it’s justified, because over the years Sydelle – along with Grandma Sylvia – has never treated Mom well. Still, Mom should have more sympathy for Sydelle and shouldn’t resent it when Dad tries to comfort his sister.

Aunt Sydelle has always been tremendously jealous of Dad because she thinks their parents favored him. Yesterday Grandpa Herb said, “Your father was always a splinter in Sydelle’s finger.”

Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel are deeply resentful of not being invited to Scott and Barbara’s engagement party and say they will not attend the wedding. (Assuming they’re invited; of course, there’s nothing to do if they’re also not invited to that.)

It seems to me to be just spite. No one is obligated to invite you to anything. Mom and her parents have the attitude of expecting to be repaid for their favors and kindnesses, but that’s unrealistic: Jesus cured ten lepers and only one of them thanked him, and I don’t think we should expect better odds than Jesus.

I think Dad has a better attitude. He has a lot of reasons to hate Marty for the way Marty treated him; even now, with his luxurious lifestyle, Marty has never made an attempt to pay Dad back the $4,000 he owes him. But Dad goes along to seders and birthday parties being as cordial as possible because Marty is Mom’s brother, and that’s a close tie.

I am not close with either of my brothers, and doubtless we’ll be less close as we get older. I think it’s important to be independent of your siblings, but be friendly with them on the occasions when you do see one another.

Today I got my typewriter back from the repair shop, but once it was home, I discovered that the problem with the space bar hasn’t really been cleared up, so I’ll have to take it back to the store.

But I did manage to type up three of the stories I wrote this week: the one page Kafkaesque (or Borgesian) “Complacencies of the Peignoir”; the saga of the runaway son, “Mark the Public Notices”; and the surrealistic dream story “What Became of August Billings,” which has a kind of haunting quality about it.

This afternoon I met Morty at the Junction and we went to Burger King together, although while we were there, I limited myself to drinking a Tab.

There are few people I enjoy spending time with more than Morty, who has a playfulness about him and a sense of the absurd. And I’m amused that he’s always on the lookout for a pretty Jewish girl.

Morty told me that his father’s becoming a middle-class parent instead of an old-fashioned refugee father: he paid for repairs on Melvin’s car and is giving Morty his old car because he feels it isn’t right for one son to have a car and the other not to.

Morty’s now a Psych major and is busy with examinations and papers; that’s what he went off to work on when we parted.

Before he left, Morty said he saw Vito at school yesterday. Ronna had said she’d seen Vito at the movies the day before, so I figured I’d give him a call this afternoon.

Vito told me that graduate tuition has suddenly been raised to $75 a credit, and because of that, he can no longer continue with graduate school. That’s a shame and an outrage. I’m sure Vito is not alone. As a veteran CUNY-watcher, I think the university is destroying itself.

Vito is going to have to get a job, what with his savings account down to $170 and the welfare checks not covering his expenses. (Of course, he goes to a play or movie every day; Vito must spend twice the money I do.)

“I shudder at the thought of working,” Vito said, and I think it will take him a while before he moves his ass. And I’d better start moving my ass and find a part-time job for the fall myself.

Monday, August 25, 1975

5 PM. I’ve just started reading Abraham Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being. I don’t know whether I’m a self-actualized person or not, but I do know that I’m closer to being one than I ever have been.

And that may be the answer to the question of a couple of days ago, asking myself if I’ve changed in the past six years. I am well along the road to mensch-hood, which I see it, has always been my goal.

I’m an achievement-oriented person, yet now I take delight in doing what I do to attain my goals. I love to write for writing’s sake, as well as for the fame, respect and fortune it may bring me.

I look upon my output this summer alone, and I have 12 or 13 short stories, plus a chunk of a novel, adding up to about 400 pages. I have more than enough material to submit this term and next for my Fiction Workshop classes at Brooklyn College.

Plus I’ve had the fun and the discipline of seeing my ideas live as words on a typewritten page. Maybe it’s my paternal/maternal instinct, but it’s a wonderful feeling and totally selfish. I love to read my stories over again because essentially I write the things I’d like to read and cannot find on the library bookshelves.

The people at the copy center at the Junction know me as an old friend by now; today I came in to have xeroxed “The Unknown,” a farcical story in the form of a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, which is investigating alien creatures who are in the committee room – but the congressmen bumble around and refuse to accept the truth.

It takes place in 1966 (I even have a letter from Minority Leader Ford inserted in “the record”), and I got the idea from an old report of a hearing investigating UFOs that I found lying around the house. I see it as a parable: change is going on all around them, but our good grey lawmakers refuse to see what’s under their very noses.

Anyway, in writing my “Senior’s Diary,” I see how different I am from the Richie Grayson of just three years ago. I used to be so dependent upon people; I lived my life through friends, and I needed so many friends.

Now I’m content to be with myself most of the time, and seeing friends has become a delightful occasional treat. I’m now willing to accept the depression and the terrible pain that life can bring as things which are not deviant, but instead are integral experiences which help make me me.

And somehow I feel I am becoming more me each day. On Saturday night, Alice called me and said, “Who knows what exciting things life has in store?”

Alice had just called a guy who placed a personal ad in the Village Voice. She usually writes, but this guy sounded interesting, so she phoned him. He turned out to be rather bland, in Alice’s estimation and not nearly funny enough – although Alice always expects so much, the way Rachel did of me.

The guy – his name is Vernon – is 36, six feet tall, lives in Brooklyn Heights, and most interestingly (to me) is a literary agent specializing in promoting young fiction writers; he has no famous clients, but Alice said he sounds very dedicated. I told her to mention me when she sees him on Wednesday.

Alice also mentioned that she slept with the kidnap victim Sam Bronfman’s younger brother Edgar in Europe one night last year. I had heard the story before – it was very much like Erica Jong’s “zipless fuck” – but didn’t know who the guy was.

Lately I’ve been concerned about Avis because I haven’t heard from her in a long time. I suppose she and Helmut went to Greece and she’s been very busy (and without her typewriter) and that’s the reason she didn’t write.

When I read over my diaries, I see things about my relationships with women that I didn’t realize then. Avis was sending signals to me, but I never saw them; Debbie also must have wondered why I never made a move; and Stacy would have gotten closer to me if I had allowed her to.

Wednesday, August 27, 1975

5 PM on an absolutely magnificent day: warm temperatures, lots of sunshine and low humidity (so that my stuffed-up head of yesterday has finally cleared up).

Reading Maslow’s book is exciting for me, because I find that I have a lot in common with his self-actualizing subjects.

I understand what he means by “peak experiences” because I have had them: last year at the BC graduation and Phi Beta Kappa installation and my birthday in June, and then again in November on the day I drove to Hempstead Lake Park (the day inspired my story “The Smile in the Closet”); early Christmas morning, after Simon’s dismal get-together; and last June, after Libby’s party.

But I’ve felt it: the almost unbearable feelings of unity, wholeness and goodness. I’ve also felt it to a lesser degree on other occasions: after dates with Ronna; after teaching a good lesson at LIU; and after writing something I consider to be worthwhile.

Never, six years ago, did I ever think there could be moments like those; and those moments, as brief and fleeting as they are, make life worth living. I have a completely different attitude toward life when I feel like that: there is zest and joy and delight and very little fear or anxiety.

Life just seems to be getting richer and richer.

I spoke to Ronna last night, and she told me about Felicia’s wedding on Sunday and how nice it was; I’m sure she made a beautiful bridesmaid. She said she felt somewhat let down afterwards, which is understandable.

Ronna was also saying goodbye, for she and her family were leaving for a week on Cape Cod today. She was intending to take a bus back next Saturday because she had promised Susan weeks ago that she’d go with her to see Daisy Miller and the film would be coming to the Carnegie Hall Cinema this weekend (for one day only). Of course Susan was holding Ronna to her promise.

Ronna was kind of upset about it, and her mother thought she was being stupid to come back. I couldn’t help putting my two cents in and I told Ronna, “Of course, you know I’d advise selfishness. . .”

No one but Ronna would interrupt a lovely vacation to see a movie (a bad one, no less) with Susan. I think my words had some effect on her – I told her to imagine how she would feel on that bus trip back – for afterwards, she said was going to call Susan and try to get out of it.

I like being Ronna’s friend, and I told her that when she gets back to the city, we should get together one day. Our conversation made me feel good.

Dad called Aunt Sydelle last evening (he’s been putting it off because he dreaded it so) and there was bad news: the doctors aren’t sure Uncle Monty will get out of the hospital this time.

They’ve been trying to treat the pneumonia, but he’s been running a high fever for ten days and he’s just deteriorating. Monty knows the nature of his illness, but still he harbors hope for a recovery: that’s human nature.

But his nephew the doctor told Sydelle that nothing can be done except to make him as comfortable as possible. At least he’s not in much pain.

I ran into Mark and his family this afternoon: all three and a half of them, for Consuelo looked slightly bigger and she informed me that David will have a little brother or sister next January.

Mark and Consuelo reported that Shelli’s parents have moved and that Don is in San Francisco, where he passed the California bar exam. Consuelo is hoping to get a job as a bilingual teacher soon.

Mark has been laid off for the past seven months and hasn’t been able to find a job, so he figured he might as well return to Brooklyn College and finally get his B.A. He’ll be taking a couple of evening courses in the fall.

It’s so strange how things work out in time: when I met Mark, he was a senior and I was a freshman. Anyway, Consuelo and Mark both look well; it was good to see them and I hope to keep in touch with them.

I saw Melvin and Mara on the quadrangle grass, and also Harry and his wife and Elayne were around, and so were Deans MacGregor and Jones. So summer is over and another school year at BC – my sixth – is beginning.

Sunday, August 31, 1975

1 PM. It’s so cool today, the last day of August. Tomorrow is Labor Day and next weekend is Rosh Hashona, the Jewish New Year.

Yesterday I got a postcard from Avis and Helmut: the picture was of Mount Olympus. Avis is suntanned and Helmut is sunburned; they arrived in Greece last weekend after a stop-off in the Austrian Alps and a treacherous two-day drive through Yugoslavia.

“But just to show that Avis and Helmut can defy death not only on Tito’s highway,” Avis wrote, “we decided to climb Mount Olympus. . . Ask Alan Karpoff to explain about that climb . . .”

Still, they’re very serene and happy in Greece, and I’m glad for them.

Yesterday I did some writing and drove Gisele home after she finished her work day here cleaning the house. She said I must have children because I’m so good with them.

At Gisele’s house in Flatbush, I met a nearly grown-up Jeanette, who giggled to her girlfriends about how cute I was. On the ride home, I ran into Melvin, who wanted to know if I was interested in buying some pot.

When I got home, Gary called, very upset, after spending the afternoon with Kay. She called Gary’s house the night we were at the movies, and they made arrangements to spend yesterday at Old Westbury Gardens, which Gary figured would be a good place to talk.

“My meager consolation for the day was that I was pleased with my performance, although it was very taxing,” Gary said. He was “firm yet sensitive” and “in control.”

Kay, he said, “can’t make a decision about us . . . about an exclusive relationship leading to marriage.” Gary’s risky bluff was that he told her that if she didn’t want that, they should discontinue the relationship; he wanted to see her reaction to that.

Kay began to cry, which pleased Gary, and he told me he “allowed for the possibility of change” in his position. Gary told her he insists upon honesty from her, yet it seems to me that he wasn’t being honest with her because he really didn’t mean what he said about not seeing her anymore.

They left it at this: they’ll continue to date until “something happens,” either a decision about getting married or any more “stressful episodes” like Gary’s hyperventilating in April, for which he now holds Kay responsible.

Gary told me he didn’t want to be alone last night and asked if he could come over. Although I had been looking forward to a quiet evening alone, I couldn’t refuse him. It wasn’t so bad: we watched TV and talked until 1 AM.

Our evening was enlivened by a shooting, or an attempted shooting, on our block. Two guys got into a fight while driving by our house – one must have cut the other off – and one guy came out of his car with a gun, shot and missed, and then clubbed the other guy with a tire iron. That guy was bleeding profusely when the ambulance and cops came.

After Gary left, I was lying in bed, and for a moment, I was seized by terror and anxiety and fear. I realized I am still scared of the future and a little afraid to live. But the moment passed, and I fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up late this morning, and after breakfast, Dad and I went to the public library and dropped off a few months’ worth of accumulated books into the night deposit slot.

I asked Dad how Monty looked, and he replied, “Lousy.”

Dad can’t understand how Bonnie’s going ahead with plans for her wedding next July. Her fiancé’s parents came over to Monty and Sydelle a few weeks ago and asked about a contribution to the wedding.

Look, Monty said, I’m a sick man, I’m not working, but I can manage a thousand dollars. Their reply: Can’t you do a little better than that? And they had the chutzpah to call up Aunt Sydelle this week and ask for $200 for the musicians. Of course, she’s in an awkward position, being only a disliked stepmother.

Anyway, Dad said that Monty’s temperature was 97° yesterday and is 103° today. Dad felt that at times Monty was babbling incoherently, telling him how Scott’s rich future father-in-law could help Dad in business.