A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1977


Wednesday, March 23, 1977

8 PM. An incredible day. Alice just called with very bad news. Janice had a radical mastectomy just hours ago. Last week Alice told me that Janice had found a lump in her breast, but neither of us thought much of it. Certainly on Saturday night it never showed in Janice’s face.

Jay said she was going crazy that night and didn’t want to go to Dolores’s house, but he talked her into it, saying it would be good for her to forget about it among friends.

She went to the doctor on Monday; yesterday she went into the hospital; and this afternoon they removed her right breast. God, it’s so unbelievable. Alice was really upset and Dolores was even worse.

Janice was crying and talking about dying and not being able to raise her arm anymore. She’s just 34 years old and Ingrid needs her. Well, Alice and I will visit her in the hospital tomorrow night.

Last evening I had another burst of creativity and wrote a short story, “Introductions,” which is basically a kind of bittersweet memoir of Ronna. I was amazed that I had the mental energy to create two stories in one day. But I showered early and I had a couple of hours to kill, so I just sat down at the typewriter and out it came.

This morning at LIU, Beverly and Devra were discussing the fact that David Lehman got a job teaching at Hamilton College; I knew him slightly last year before Brooklyn College laid him off.

Bev said she dated David when he was a first-year graduate student at Columbia and was so impressed that he actually had a book published: “It didn’t matter that his poems weren’t all that great.”

In America, for some reason – as Saul Bellow said on TV last night – writers are considered sex symbols. I doubt it will happen to me.

My classes went smoothly enough: a discussion of pronouns in English 10 and a continuation of Gatsby in English 12. It’s now pretty easy to teach three hours in a row, as I’ve gotten used to it.

After leaving LIU at 1 PM, I drove into Queens; it was so chilly and windy that my car was wavering on the BQE. I went to Alexander’s in Rego Park to take advantage of a sale, buying a couple of short-sleeved sweatshirts for $1.99 each.

Then I went to Brooklyn College, where I learned, to my delight, that Gloria had picked up the Conference brochures when she went to Valco earlier in the day. I was so grateful to her for that.

The brochures are plain and stuffy-looking, but I guess they’re all right. I was in the English Department and started putting them in teachers’ mailboxes when Blanche said, “Young man, what do you think you’re doing? Nothing goes in those boxes without the approval of the Chairman.”

I looked at her as though she was crazy and told her it was for the Conference, showed her that the brochure said it was sponsored by the Department – all to no avail. And she certainly wasn’t going to give me any envelopes to mail them out.

I was furious. Everyone in the office was looking at me as if I were some kind of criminal and I loudly told Blanche she’d better talk with Gelernt. I was fuming, but I calmed down when I went back to the office and started talking to Gloria.

Peter said to her today that they were going to have to have a long serious talk about her job, and Gloria insisted on knowing what Peter wanted to say right away. He told her they wanted her to start working part-time on April 1, which I guess is a direct result of my refusing to take her job last Thursday.

Gloria was very upset, and who can blame her? She’s having a hectic time: Eric and the kids are sick, they’re moving next week, her parents are moving to Florida. In the past couple of months she’s been considering resigning. She knows she’s not as efficient as Peggy was, but Peggy didn’t have a family or outside interests.

Finally I told Gloria about the job offer Jon made to me; of course she was outraged. She knows I’m her friend, and she said she was glad she could talk to me about this because I’m the only one who knows what she’s been going through.

She’s been feeling guilty about neglecting her family and guilty about not doing a decent job. “This job has been bad for my head,” Gloria said, and I tried to be of comfort.

Thursday, March 24, 1977

2 PM. I took a tranquilizer just now, the first time I’ve done that during the day in God knows how many months. I just had to get out of the Fiction Collective office today.

My stomach is in a knot, and my head is pounding with rage and exhaustion. I don’t need this shit! Professor Gelernt called to give me a lecture on protocol and public relations. It seems I upset Blanche and the whole office yesterday, behaving rudely, etc.

I don’t have to take shit from that asshole. Even if it means never teaching at Brooklyn College, I don’t care. I raised my voice and told him he must have been misinformed.

“Blanche does not lie,” the onionhead said.

Entre nous,” I told him, using his favorite expression (though of course the sarcasm escaped him, as it always does with these people), “I think I did everything properly. Isn’t it an English Department conference, after all?”

After I hung up with him, I was in a white rage. In the end, Gelernt would still not allow me to put the brochure in the mailboxes; he wanted me to write up a paragraph about the Conference and he would mimeograph it and let the teachers know they could get a brochure if they wanted one.

Isn’t that total insanity? Jon was also furious when he came in, and he said, “I’m not the one who wanted this damn conference! It’s Jules who said he’d offer all the help he could!”

Jon said that, contrary what I had assumed (and what I had been led to believe), Marilyn Gittell had been the one pushing for the Conference. So what it all comes down to is that I have all the responsibility for a conference practically no one wants!

Every time Jon opened his mouth, the knot in my stomach grew a little tighter. Harold Brodkey’s name came out as Robert Brodkey in the brochure: all right, that was my mistake. But Jon also said the title – “Literature and Publishing” – wasn’t “jazzy” enough. Two weekends ago that was what he told me he wanted it called!

And he had the nerve to ask me if I’d go to some College Day thing on a Sunday and sit with the Fiction Collective books. But what’s worse is that I was stupid and gutless enough to say I’d probably do it.

I slipped out the side door of Boylan Hall at 1 PM before my head slipped off my shoulders. On the way off campus, I ran into Peter, who was going to lunch with Jon and Gloria to give her the bad news.

At this point, I can’t even look at Baumbach. I guess in a way I’m lucky: if it weren’t for my experience working for the Conference, I might have taken the job of Fiction Collective Coordinator. At least I’ve seen what they’re like as bosses now.

On April 26, when the Conference is over, I will end my formal relationship with Jon and the Fiction Collective. Meanwhile, I’m not going to let the Conference drive me crazy. It’s been such a negative experience all the way through.

All the news seems to be bad.

To begin with, Avis wrote that her mother sent her a hate letter, saying that she should not consider Mrs. P her mother anymore. Now Avis and Helmut will have no place to stay in New York this summer.

I have to admit that sometimes I feel that Avis has acted selfishly, and selfishly in a negative context; of course, I’m probably just terribly envious because she’s avoided the responsibilities I have to face. While the rest of us struggle with life in America, Avis escaped to Germany and Helmut upon graduation from college.

Other bad news: Gary called and said he was fired last Thursday. He’s been upset and enraged ever since. They said it was because things are slow, but office politics was involved, too.

Gary’s in a real pickle now. The big reason they moved to Jersey was the job; now, when he finds something – and who knows how long that will take? – it will most likely be in New York. And since Betty’s job is in Princeton, they can’t leave because hers is the only salary coming in.

More bad news: I ran into Alex, who still hasn’t been able to get a job two years after graduation. He went on a job interview and found Susan in the office, working as a lowly receptionist. She has a master’s degree from Rutgers. How depressing.

And tonight, what do I say to Janice? How do you comfort someone who’s had a mastectomy?

Is there an egress in the house?

Sunday, March 27, 1977

4 PM. Yes, today is definitely spring. I exchanged my winter jacket for my spring one several hours ago.

Jonny was ill last night, running a temperature of 103° with a bad sore throat and a lot of congestion, so Mom called Larry Rothenberg to come over. Jonny’s been in bed all day, of course, and while he seems to be improving, it must be terrible to have to lie in bed.

Marc is still sick with his sinuses, too, and to tell the truth, my head is kind of stuffed up. Oh, how I wish the vacation was this week instead of next.

I’m going to avoid Jon Baumbach as best I can. While I’m aware I’m not doing my job at the Conference, Jon makes me so nervous, I can’t stand to be around him.

In a month the whole thing will be just an unpleasant memory. I’m sick of hassling with Gelernt and the English Department; I’m sick of Jon’s constant questions and nagging; I’m sick of having to be responsible for something I couldn’t care less about.

Maybe I’ll call in sick one day this week. Tomorrow night is Hilary’s Oscars party, so Tuesday will probably be a sleepy, wasted day.

I’ve been trying to get days ahead of myself on my Bullworker exercises. God knows I’m just as compulsive as Jonny when it comes to working out – or when it comes to writing this journal. Davey talked of “positive addiction,” like his running. But maybe I’d be better off if I didn’t feel compelled to write a daily journal or do my isometrics.

Gosh, my head is pounding. I’ll have to resort to my own remedy: sticking moist Q-tips up my nose till I sneeze all of the mucus out.

This is going to be a strange week, I can feel it. Last week brought so much unpleasantness (including Ronna’s phone call). I guess I won’t do any writing this week, but I’ve been pretty prolific lately so I shan’t worry. I feel as though I’m not writing anything important. But is there anything important to write?

Today, just as in old times, I caught a noon movie in Manhattan: The Late Show at the Sutton. Art Carney and Lily Tomlin were good, but I can never follow those private-eye movie plots. When I couldn’t find parking in Greenwich Village or Brooklyn Heights, I ended up having lunch near the house, at the Floridian.

What have I never told my diary about myself? Well, sometimes I think my cock is big and other times I think it’s small; in fact, I’m sure it changes sizes (apart from erections). My glasses are forever slipping down my nose. I cut my fingernails very short. For the last fifteen years I have had a small red wart on the second finger of my right hand.

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is crack parts of my body: back, knuckles, neck, toes. I sleep with my head at the foot of the bed because I can’t stand being on top of the radiator. When I wipe myself, I sometimes smell the toilet paper. In the morning I flex my biceps in the bathroom mirror.

I desperately need a new pair of shoes. I also need a haircut. I shave above my nose because otherwise I’d have one giant eyebrow. I have no chin whatsoever, and that bothers me.

Why am I writing this? People think I’m very conceited. Am I? What am I? If I cut off my thumb, would I still be the same person?

I love to hear the foghorns in Jamaica Bay at night while I’m in bed. I enjoy feeling sorry for myself. How did I get to be this creature that is called Richard Arnold Grayson, né Ginsberg? I have the feeling I’d be much different if I were still Richie Ginsberg. Maybe I’d be cooler.

I am so very uncool, but of course that has its advantages too. For instance, I can afford to do silly things like sing in public or walk with a limp or pretend I’m a dope. (Some people would say I’m not pretending.)

My head is really hurting me. I can hardly hold it up. I would like to go to sleep for a long, long time and wake up on the first of May. I feel like sighing a lot. I want to be Peter Pan and fly and never grow up. But I also want to be a cranky old man. Can I do both? Successfully, I mean?

Tuesday, March 29, 1977

9 PM. I enjoyed Hilary’s Academy Awards party last night. All day yesterday I considered going to the party an interruption of my too-busy schedule, but getting out among people was just what I needed because I get out so seldom these days.

As usual, I was the first person there. But Hilary didn’t mind at all; in fact, she told me she was pissed that so many people chose to arrive “fashionably late.”

Two things I find an enormous advantage in social situations: The first is arriving early so you don’t find yourself entering a party whose mood you cannot get into; the early arrivals tend to establish a mood. The second advantage is being a teetotaler among drinkers. I believe Nick Carroway says this in The Great Gatsby.

Anyway, Alice and Hilary were busy setting up the apartment, slicing bread, putting up Rocky posters. (Hilary’s preferences in the Oscars were strictly for that movie and “the great Sly Stallone”; most of the other women, except for a few discriminating types like Alice and June – who rarely sees movies – were impartial. I guess she either has a crush on Stallone or is just a boxing fan because of her father.)

Hilary had a huge 30-pound turkey catered in, along with other goodies such as slices of pepperoni (which Cliff mistook for beef jerky).

They have a really nice apartment on the corner of First and 74th, and oh it must cost them. Isadora did not breeze in till 8:30 PM, coming straight from the airport. She works for a trade magazine for supermarkets and had been in Chapel Hill all day, attending a conference on energy saving for stores.

June and Richard brought their friend Harry, whom I vaguely remember from the very old Kingsman days. Harry is doing his dissertation on the old ’30s ILGWU show Pins and Needles.

Harry’s a friend of Prof. Goodman and of Laurie, and I liked him a lot. He’s secretly married to a girl who lives in Boston with her parents because she’s terribly dependent upon them. And he told me he turned down an offer to be an adjunct at LIU this fall.

Hilary looked terrific with her Florida tan and in a sarong-type thing (in this respect, I’m a typical male: I don’t know what to call it).

From the moment Cliff walked in – Cliff is the only person I know who can walk into a room and you just know that sometime during the evening he’s going to say, “Aw, shucks” – Hilary was on his trail. It was almost embarrassing the way she kept throwing herself at him.

I had occasion to watch Hilary make her move on Cliff during an otherwise apparently pointless conversation recounting an argument she’d had last week with Reggie Jackson in a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. Cliff just blinked and asked if Reggie Jackson was black. “I can never tell,” he said.

As a gift, I gave Hilary a collection of Salinger stories (she has a thing for him), I told Cliff his article in the Sunday Times real estate section was wonderful (I didn’t read it), and then I left them alone, sauntering over to talk with June and Isadora.

Because June always makes me nervous, I just smile at her; otherwise, if I say something, she just contradicts me. Isadora was stoned on beers and from being up since 5:30 AM and flying around. Although I hear she’s painfully shy, she kept yelling out embarrassing things during the Oscars.

Isadora is an ugly little thing, but she’d look so much better if she didn’t try to cover her face with so much makeup. Maybe she will look better when her braces come off.

She introduced me to her editor, who turned out to be Janice Fioravante, who is still with Nappy. I didn’t know them all that well when they were on Kingsman, but they’re very nice people.

(I had always wanted to be at a party and be introduced to someone I already knew, but I figured it would take years to happen, if ever.)

Isadora said she travels a great deal, and she must be paid very well, even if she does write about supermarkets. Janet told me Nappy designs sets for Broadway and TV, and had, in fact, created the breakaway window which caused much laughter on NBC’s Saturday Night last week.

I chatted with Alice’s friend Anita and her husband Keith. Before going to McGraw-Hill, Anita had been at Seventeen. She’s a very academic person, like myself, and would love to go on for her doctorate in history, “but I know there are no jobs.” Anita could be mistaken for Alice’s soft-spoken sister, they look so much alike.

Alice herself was talking a mile a minute, telling everyone about her new Village Voice-ad beau, Shea Silver, the bearded photographer who drove down from Purchase on Sunday night to see “the girl of his dreams.”

Alice likes Shea although she says he’s “mostly just horny” and doesn’t cotton to his “feminism,” which to her just means he won’t pay her way.

As the evening went on, Hilary was so insecure, constantly asking everyone if they were having a good time.

After 10 PM, most of the action was in front of the TV sets, playing triple images of the Oscarcast. The crowd became desolate after Stallone’s loss in the Best Actor category. I personally was glad that Peter Finch was honored posthumously, although Hilary kept complaining that he should have been ineligible because he was dead.

The group felt vindicated at the end when Rocky was named Best Picture. After that, everyone skedaddled fairly quickly. I drove Alice home, dropping off Anita and Keith in midtown on the way.

Today, Poets & Writers sent me a notification that I wasn’t rejected this time and that my name would be listed in the next Directory of American Fiction Writers.

My name, address, telephone number and credits will appear in their listings between Francine DuPlessix Gray and somebody. Although the next edition won’t be published until next year or so, it’s a clear signal that I’ve been accepted as a professional writer and it does my ego good.

Thursday, March 31, 1977

4 PM. Last evening I wrote a short fictional piece called “One Night Stands.” While it’s not that good, certainly it’s as good as some of the pieces that have recently been accepted. At least I was able to fulfill my conscience-quota of one story a week.

Yesterday I got a poetry book I ordered, The Daily News. The poems were just superb, very Ashberyian but fairly explicit about gay things like the whole S/M scene at the Eagle’s Nest.

The author, Brad Gooch, just turned 25. He’s lived in Paris, went to Columbia, worked as a locker-room attendant at the Y and taught remedial writing at a drug rehabilitation center.

On impulse I called the one Brad Gooch in the Manhattan phone book when I saw he lived in Morningside Heights. Of course he was taken aback when I said I phoned him just to say how much I liked his book; I was the first one (stranger, anyway) who called him to say he’d read it.

I told Brad I’d try to review the book for Small Press Review or something. He said I’d made his day. It’s nice to make someone’s day, and if I ever get a book published, I’d be thrilled if someone called me up.

Brad is an M.A. student at Columbia, and we talked a little about poetry. As I expected, he loves Ashbery’s work. When he came to New York six years ago, John tried to pick him up at the Gay Firehouse; Brad knew who he was and was embarrassed because John was so drunk. Brad met him later, “professionally,” and he never alluded to their initial meeting.

I suppose I’d be envious of Brad except he’s a poet and I’m a fiction writer, and we agreed that neither of us do very well in the other’s genre. Of course one of the reasons I called him is that he’s so goddamned cute in his author’s photo, but I also have these vague ambitions to be like Edmund Wilson or Ezra Pound (or Richard Kostelanetz?) and promote the really good writers of my generation.

Today I took care of a lot at the MFA office. I got out the second mailings of the brochures and the letter to all the Conference participants, and I got out another press release, the lead of which was “Brooklyn College Publishing / Literature Conference to Continue Despite Terrorist Threats.”

It’s humorous, of course; I invented a group, the June Fourth Brigade, who have threatened to “hold as hostage the greatest literary lights ever assembled.”

And then I wrote: “Richard Grayson, the Conference Coordinator, says he will not give in to terrorists and that he can’t believe anyone would want to harm writers like Kurt Vonnegut, poets like Richard Howard, editors like Aaron Asher,” etc.

I did this on my own. After all, Jon and Jack have kept pushing me to get publicity, and certainly this is better than a dry press release. College Relations (Mark’s friend Fred Moreno) will send out their own press release anyway; I took care of that today, too.

I also sent out another 300 or so brochures today; thank goodness I had Harvey to help me. He and Gloria and I had lunch at Kosher Country, where everyone around us looked so young.

It was pleasant to talk with Harvey and Gloria about things like bad high-school memories and such. Gloria is moving tomorrow, and she’s having lots of hassles with the telephone company. She won’t be in all next week.

Steve Katz’s Moving Parts page proofs came in today, and it looks like it’s going to be an out-of-sight book; also, Elaine Kraf’s Find Him! galleys arrived.

The Publishers Weekly review of Statements 2 said:

There is some real talent here, experiments searching out new directions, of course, but on the whole, accomplished, varied, ever interesting. Some items are more successful than others, but the point of a volume of this sort is not only to give new writers a forum but also to enable readers to keep tabs on what is happening. Successful on both counts.

Gary phoned yesterday from the city, where he’s pounding the pavement and going on interviews. He said he and Betty were thrilled to get Statements 2 in the mail. I hope to meet Gary for lunch one day next week.