A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1976


Tuesday, April 13, 1976

It’s a lovely afternoon, but the weather has been so topsy-turvy lately, it’s no wonder I caught cold. Yesterday we had record-breaking cold temperatures, and tomorrow is supposed to be balmy. Spring is such an uncertain season in New York: one doesn’t know whether to wear a winter coat or just a sweater.

At dinner last night at 8:30 PM, Dad said that he had talked to Lennie, telling him he could not spend so much time away from Marilyn and his family.

Lennie told Dad he would pay him $2,000 for working these two weeks and urged him to continue, just until the store really gets rolling; according to Lennie, that will be in several months. After that, Lennie said, Dad can do whatever he wants, and added that Dad will “have more money than you’ll know what to do with.”

But Mom continues to make Dad miserable, sniping away at him every chance she gets. I was awakened today at 8 AM by the sounds of arguing in the kitchen. I could hear Dad shouting something about “You always have to get in your little digs . . . just like you did with Richard on Sunday.” (Mom had said that I was concerned only that if Dad quit his job, there’d be no money for me and my “ivory tower” would be destroyed.) Dad then said, “You bitch!”

I am coming to despise my mother more each day. She’s a sick woman, but that doesn’t excuse her attitude, which is causing everyone unhappiness. By exacerbating the situation, she’s only alienating Dad more and more, and if he quits, he will resent her for a long time.

It’s unpleasant to live here these days, and I can’t wait to be out on my own. Things will eventually fall into place, with a little push from me.

I got my graduation materials today, and I’m in sight of finally ending my formal academic training. I am anxious to get a job so that I can make enough money to afford my own apartment; for a while, my writing will have to take a back seat. If I have it in me, I won’t lose the talent or the energy; I’m certain that if it’s meant to be, I will be a professional writer.

Last evening I spoke to Elspeth to tell her that I’m coming to the party on May 1. She said Elihu had spoken to his friend Peter in Madison, and Peter said that Shelli and Leon were both pleasantly surprised to be invited, but that Jerry went into a long, vicious tirade against Elspeth.

Last week, Elspeth met Slade, who also said he would come to the party, so I do expect enough people I know there to make it interesting.

Elspeth still isn’t back to work; although the counselor she sees at Jewish Family Services feels she’s all right, the Police Department will not let her back on the job.

She’s been having migraine headaches and is supposed to go for a brainwave scan. Poor Elspeth: she’s always been trying to get attention if she can’t get love.

This morning I went downtown with Marc, who dropped me off at DeKalb Avenue while he went to the Unemployment office. I took the train into the city and caught the 10:30 AM show of All the President’s Men at Loew’s Astor Plaza off Times Square.

Two teenage boys were trying to get in ahead of me, and I said they were with me, but the manager didn’t believe me and refused to let the kids in. At least I tried to help them.

The movie was fantastic. It was exciting even though I knew all the facts and the eventual outcome. Bernstein and Woodward have made every American kid want to be an investigative reporter rather than President.

On the train coming home, I saw a dead cop on the platform as we passed the West 4th Street station. People were swarmed around him. It was like a scene in a movie, but it was only New York reality.

Wednesday, April 14, 1976

5 PM. In a couple of hours, we should be sitting down to our seder. Dad is supposed to come home early (last night he didn’t get in till 10 PM), and Marc, who’s working in “the place,” should be home soon as well.

A beautiful sunny day today, it was over 70°, and I went out to Brighton Beach for ninety minutes this afternoon to get some sun, and I think I’ve got a little color.

One thing that’s nice about being a writer: you can sit around like a lazy bum and then come home and find out that a story of yours has been accepted by a magazine.

Actually, today’s acceptance was quite confusing. In the regular mail today, I got an envelope containing two stories from Boxspring, the literary magazine at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The fiction editor, Caaron Belcher, wrote me to say that they were keeping two of the stories I’d sent them and that there was a very good possibility that they’d be printing one of them.

The letter was dated March 20 – that’s the vagaries of Fourth Class Mail – and I remembered I’d sent them a new batch of stories on Monday night after I looked over the “Manuscripts Wanted” section of New Writers.

So I wrote Caaron a letter thanking her for her consideration, explaining about the new submission, and telling her I’d be interested in seeing her own stuff. I mailed that off before I went to Brighton Beach.

When I returned home, Mom said that a special delivery letter had arrived. It was an acceptance of “Peninsular People” by Kathleen Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Boxspring. She wrote to say that because of their rushed printing schedule, they would be requiring a contributor’s note from me immediately.

So I wrote yet another letter, explaining the mixup and giving my credits, and I sent that off special delivery – meaning that letter will probably arrive before the other letters and cause even more confusion.

But, oh, it’s wonderful! And so unbelievable that my own eccentric, very personal view of the universe would be accepted by others as literature. Three stories accepted in three months: it makes me so happy.

And my list of credits is growing so impressive: “stories in New Writers, Panache, California Quarterly, Star-Web Paper, Snakeroots, Juice, Dogsoldier, Junction, Scholia Satyrica, The Westerly Review and Boxspring.”

I’ve been very, very lucky.

One friend who’s had some bad luck recently is Mikey. Yesterday I drove out to Rockaway and was surprised that Mikey’s car wasn’t in his driveway. Coming in the house, I asked him about it and he said, “It’s a long story.”

When I walked in, he was on the phone with Nina, and it’s joyfully obvious that she is the woman in Mikey’s life. I tried to see whether I could tell if Mikey looked different: he’s in love and I’m sure he’s not a virgin anymore. He looked the same as usual, but maybe there was a bit less sharpness around the eyes. Of course that could be your correspondent’s imagination.

Anyway, about the car: Mikey was up at Nina’s apartment when his mother called. The police had called her to say that their car had been hit while parked on West 67th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam.

Mikey and Nina went down to survey the damage, and it was just awful: some hit-and-run driver nearly demolished the Datsun. They estimate there’s $1,800 damage and Mikey is without a car. He’s pretty stoic about it, though, just as he is about everything.

He said Marty enjoyed his trip to Madison and reported that Leon, Jerry and Shelli are doing well. They did not take part in the demonstration against George Wallace, but Leon did throw peanuts on Jimmy Carter and Marty did meet the guy who spit on Scoop Jackson.

Mikey is planning to move to Anaheim in late July to attend Pepperdine Law School if he doesn’t get into any other school.

Friday, April 16, 1976

9 PM on a hot night. It hit 80° today but was quite cloudy and humid.

Late this afternoon, I drove into Greenwich Village with the idea of getting laid. Maybe it’s vacation boredom, maybe it’s months of sexual frustration, but I was so hungry for another body.

With this warm weather, guys have been wearing T-shirts and taking off their shirts, and I’ve been going bananas looking at bulging biceps, hairy chests and nice-looking bodies in tight blue jeans.

And my trepidations about engaging in homosexual activities have all but vanished with the sense of self I have found. Gay or bisexual or straight, I’m still Richard Grayson, an individual of worth, and it doesn’t matter at all whether I ejaculate into a woman’s vagina or a man’s mouth, or for that matter, a tissue held by my own hand.

But there’s no getting away from two facts. One: masturbation is not as good as having another person beside you. Two: while I’m attracted to women’s bodies, I tend to look at guys first.

This is New York in 1976, and if I want to find a guy to have sex with, that shouldn’t be hard, no? But of course, I’m pretty selective. I can’t stand faggy guys, and I like cute, boyish kids with muscles. Anyway, after a nice dinner at The Bagel, I strolled around Washington Square, and by that time, I wasn’t that horny anymore.

Besides, I saw only one person whom I was attracted to: a beautiful kid, about 18 or 19, slim, with curly dark hair, who was wearing a yellow Le Petit Prince T-shirt and cutoff jeans with sneakers and no socks.

For that boy, I would have killed – but as killing requires less courage than just going up to somebody and starting a conversation, I just followed him with my eyes until he drifted away and I lost the interest to go after him.

It’s not a question of a homosexual thing, either; I feel the same shyness with girls. I don’t see myself as a very attractive individual although I’m reasonably good-looking (but I know that only intellectually).

An old black man came over and asked me for money: “Could you give me a nickel so that I can buy me some wine? Nothing else to do but buy me some wine and feel good.” I gave him a quarter because I admired his directness and honesty.

Later I spotted him on West 8th Street, having gotten his money together, as he was heading into a liquor store to purchase his wine. That old drunk was straight-forward; unlike myself, he went after what he wanted.

For weeks now I’ve had to stop myself from calling Ronna. I want to give her a chance to call me. At least she could call me to thank me for the birthday present I sent her – but I keep forgetting that she hasn’t been thoughtful of me in months.

It’s so hard for me to believe that Ronna is not as sweet as she appears; in her way, she’s been crueler to me than Shelli ever was. Maybe I’ve done terrible things to her that she’s paying me back for; if so, at least I would like to know what they were.

It makes me very, very angry to realize I was never as important to her as she was to me. Last night I awoke from a dream about Ronna in an absolute rage: I would have strangled her had she been handy.

I am so empty these days, so terribly hungry for companionship and affection; the loneliness has gotten past the point where it’s been helping my writing, for I have had nothing to write about in days.

It’s sexual love that I need. In the past few days I’ve spent time, either in person or on the phone, with Josh, Gary and Alice, and those encounters, while pleasant, failed to satisfy my need for one special person to talk with.

I’m not trying to sound self-pitying. I am merely stating the fact of my loneliness. I know that only I can do something to change things. At least I’ve learned to take responsibility for my situation.

Saturday, April 17, 1976

6:30 PM. I feel terrific. I took my friend the wino’s advice and asked for something I wanted: the something in this case being a date with Ronna. And she said yes! So tonight we’re going to the movies.

But today would have been a great day even if I had ended up spending the night alone at home. First of all, it was the warmest, most gorgeous day: it hit 91° and there was not a proverbial cloud in the sky.

After waking up early, I did my exercises so I could get out fast to soak up the sun’s rays. And guess what, I almost forgot: I managed to write a prose piece last night, putting in the wino and that beautiful guy in Washington Square Park.

It’s a very deep thing discussing, as usual, the process of making fiction. I wanted to make the statement that there is really no reason to read fiction when anyone instead can write it and create a false reality much more personally meaningful.

I titled it “Unobtrusive Methods, Inchoate Designs.” Anyway, it’s either very stupid or very brilliant. To me, writing is therapy, and I’m completely amazed when editors accept my stories. (This was a strange week: one acceptance and no rejections in the mail.)

Today, after spending the day in Rockaway among my “Peninsular People,” I’m flabbergasted that a college literary magazine in Amherst, Massachusetts, would understand my own very personal vision of Rockaway.

I’m a little embarrassed to look over the story now. I put in how I think Stefanie’s breasts and Davey’s jogging are beautiful and I talked of my Ginsberg grandparents’ bickering and Ivan’s mother on her tricycle and the Karpoffs on their surfboards and Stacy having the courage to hold hands with her female lover in public.

The story is a very affirmative view of life, and it does express my wonderment at the infinite variety of people; it’s a celebration of life.

I felt like celebrating life in Rockaway today, and it was the quintessential Rockaway day. First, I lay on a rocky deserted beach at Beach 105th Street for two hours. It was so good to feel open like that, naked skin on hot sun and cool breeze.

Then I went to Grandma Ethel’s, where she gave me and Grandpa Herb gefilte fish for lunch. Uncle Morris and Aunt Tillie were there, and I was really touched by something Morris did. He went all the way back to his apartment to bring a pen and pencil set for me, because he knows I’m a writer and can use it. I promised to write his life story one day. (It might not be uninteresting, you know.)

Then I left Grandma Ethel’s to lie on the beach for an hour in Belle Harbor: I saw none of my friends as I walked on the beach for twenty blocks until I got to Neponsit. There I found Marc’s friends Steven and Joey and Bruce and was glad for the chance to rest on their big blanket.

When I became restless, I walked back until I found Davey, Alan Karpoff and their friend Sherie digging a tunnel.

Alan and Davey are still at Brooklyn College: Davey’s graduating and Alan’s got one more term. Alan’s student teaching and working at the Y; he inquired about Avis and Laurie, and he said that Mason seemed to be doing surprisingly well.

Tomorrow Alan and Davey are leaving for a week in the mountains. They were both so pleased to be included in my Rockaway story and said to send them copies.

We all went back to Davey’s house and had orange juice and sat around talking. I didn’t leave until after 4 PM, feeling flattered to be included.

Now I have the worst sunburn this side of Hackensack, but oh, the pain is so good.

Sunday, April 18, 1976

5 PM. This holiday weekend was absolutely the most glorious in my entire life. At times I feel I am the luckiest man who ever lived. I am certain that I have been happier than 99.9999% of the human race. I love life, and I find it’s my vocation as a writer to articulate life’s wonders.

I think that in a piece like “Peninsular People,” I came close to success in stating the facts of people’s lives, their strengths and weaknesses, as nonjudgmentally as possible.

I love people, and people – friends, lovers and family – have given me so much, and I want to somehow repay them. Even a stranger like that black wino in Washington Square Park gave something; in asking me for a nickel, he taught me to ask for what I need and want.

I did that yesterday afternoon. I asked Ronna if I could come over and say hello; she said she was planning on calling me that evening, and I believed her.

When I arrived at the Caplan apartment, I found the whole family running about. Ronna was wearing shorts, having just come from playing tennis in New Jersey. When I shook her hand, she chuckled and kissed my cheek, and we sat down on the couch.

I bored her by telling her what I was doing and then asked her about her own life. She’s not going to Penn State after all, but to Purdue in Indiana. She’ll leave in late August and start a three-term program for her M.A. in American Studies.

Everything but room and board will be paid for her, and she’ll teach either two sections of English composition or three sections of developmental reading or assist on some faculty publication.

I was so happy for Ronna, and proud of her; later, I tried to feel if I had any traces of envy, but I couldn’t really come up with much. If anything, I’ve always had more confidence in Ronna than she had in herself, and it’s nice to know that we’ll have even more in common now: I told her maybe I could give her a bit of advice on teaching freshman comp.

When her sister came out of her room, Sue suggested I take Ronna to the movies. Ronna, embarrassed, said that Sue was supposed to be doing something with her in the evening but now wanted to see her old boyfriend.

I asked Ronna if she wanted to see The Story of Adele H. at the Midwood, and she agreed, so I left for home in order for us both to eat dinner and dress. At 7:45 PM, I returned to Canarsie to pick her up.

As we drove to the theater, we talked about her friends. She told me that Susan’s in Europe now, that Felicia and Spencer are fine, and that Rose’s wedding was very nice and that she especially liked seeing Kathy, Alex and Kenny there again.

She speaks often with Ivan, who’s still working for that electronics firm, “but he’s never taken me up on any of my foolish offers.” I got the feeling Ronna felt relieved that he hadn’t.

We both enjoyed the movie: Isabel Adjani is so beautiful. I saw a couple of people I know there: Bobby Srebnick, who must be home from Harvard, and Lennie’s business partner Artie and his wife.

(Until just now, I forgot that Ronna and I had our first date at the Midwood Theater, the night before Thanksgiving 1972, three and a half years ago.)

Back at Ronna’s house, she kidded me for bringing along my scrapbook of acceptance letters, but I told her I’ve become proud of myself and that she should feel the same way. I made her show me her acceptance letter from Purdue.

Ronna’s mother and Ben came home from the movies, very angry with Billy for his behavior. There were tears, and while I waited quietly in Sue’s bedroom, I heard Billy tell Ronna: “She [their mother] doesn’t love me . . . None of them love me . . . Even Richie loves me more and he’s not even my mother!” That made me feel very good indeed, even if was funny.

Finally peace in the family was arranged, and Billy fell asleep, and Ronna’s mother and Ben went on the terrace. I let Ronna read “Peninsular People,” but I left the room, not wanting to see her reaction.

I was a little afraid she’d be offended, especially by my rather intimate references to Ivan’s family, but she said that the work, like all my stories, was “honest” and that it had almost made her cry.

“Do you like me?” I suddenly asked her, and she said she did.

So I asked her why she never calls me, and she said she was afraid I was very angry with her. I wanted to know if her not calling had anything to do with me as a person, but she said it was because we had once gone out together and been in love.

She said there was still something there, and that’s true, though on my part, I felt no sexual attraction at all towards her. I like Ronna very much, and I told her that in a kind of way, if only memory, she would always be with me.

It was getting late, and Ronna had to get up early to go to the movies with Susan’s mother, so I said goodnight and she kissed me on the cheek and I told her to call me before she goes away to Indiana in August.

She made a face and said she’d be working at Telenet for a while and then going to Canada for a week, and certainly she’d call me. I left her house feeling good. It was a mild night, even so late, and at home, I lay awake for hours, feeling very happy and just thinking over things.

When I awoke at 11 AM, it was 86°; eventually it reached 96°, making today the hottest Easter (or day in April) on record. By 12:30 PM I was in Rockaway, where it was cooler because of the sea breezes.

I found Mason and his mother in front of their house. “It’s Richie the writer,” Mrs. Klee said. She looked awful, as if she’d aged terribly since Kenny’s death – and I’m sure in her heart she has.

Little Kevin, who’s now about 6 or 7, was being such an awful pest as she watered the lawn. Mrs. Klee has gotten much more sarcastic and less patient with him; she reminded me a lot of Mom in one of her sour moods.

Mason’s still been subbing at Beach Channel High and also at a junior high in Brownsville. As Alan had said, Mason looks surprisingly well. Mason said that on Friday night he and Davey went over to see Stacy, who, as usual, is getting over another heartbreaking relationship.

Mason, Kevin and I walked over to Mikey’s place, which isn’t going to be theirs much longer. Some people have bought the house, and Mikey’s mother got an eviction notice on Wednesday night.

They’re looking for an apartment in Rockaway and have to find one before June. Mikey’s mother served us macaroons, and Kevin continued to be a pest. Cindy called, saying she was ill again, so she and Mike wouldn’t be coming over later after all.

We walked down to the beach. Although it may have been 96° in Central Park, it felt a good twenty degrees cooler by the beach. Mikey said Nina would have come by, but she was too busy doing schoolwork.

On the beach, we sat and bullshitted for a while. Mikey got on the waiting list at John Marshall Law School, and I think he’d prefer that to Pepperdine.

Eventually, I walked back with Mason and his brother and said goodbye to his parents and then headed to Grandpa Nat’s.

I found him and Grandma Sylvia sitting on a bench near the boardwalk. Grandma Sylvia looks amazingly well, and it was good to see her again after so many months.

They came back from Miami on a late Friday night flight, and now they’ve got Florida-like weather in New York.

Aunt Sydelle came by, on her way from her beach club in Atlantic Beach. Monty was too ill to go out: he’s in very bad shape and getting worse each day. That’s so awful for the poor man. He was always such a fun-loving, ruddy-complexioned, hearty guy – and now he’s just wasting away, and nothing can be done about it.

We went upstairs, where Grandma Sylvia gave me lunch, and I listened to her and Aunt Sydelle talk about the undeserved good fortune of others, namely Aunt Sydelle’s three stepdaughters; Cousins Harriet and Stan; Cousins Hesh and Sandra and their friends, my aunt and uncle Arlyne and Marty; and Scott’s future in-laws.

All of these people seem to be doing fantastically well, and Grandma Sylvia and Aunt Sydelle can’t understand why such obvious fools are so blessed.

There was also talk about Scott’s wedding plans and of Robin and Michael stalking out of the seder when Aunt Sydelle put down blacks: the usual stuff. Still, it’s family, and I’m amused by it.

On my way home, I stopped off at Larry’s. He was out in the street walking Brownie, and he said he wasted the day, sleeping mostly, because he and Mike went to Stuie and Ann’s in Jersey last night and didn’t get back to Rockaway until 4 AM.