A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1979


Thursday, March 1, 1979

7 PM. The days are going by more quickly than they ever have before. Winter seems to have disappeared now that it’s March. It did not snow today but was sunny and 55°.

All last night I fidgeted, but this morning I felt fine and drove to Manhattan along the Belt Parkway, enjoying the early morning air from the open window.

After I found a parking space by a meter at Union Square, 200 Park Avenue South’s creaking elevator got me to Taplinger’s offices by 10 AM. I greeted Mary and went in to see Wesley, already at work on my galleys.

He said they looked pretty clean. There were a few typos that he found – they add up – and we realized that you can’t look through the “lens” of a Kodak Instamatic: we’ll have to change that to “Nikon.”

They forgot to typeset the last page of “Garibaldi in Exile”; Wes sent the typescript down today and that should be taken care of.

While I was there, Wes got a call from Marla; she’s quit her job and so he was asking her to wash his shirts because they’re leaving tomorrow night for a week’s vacation in Florida to visit her mother and their grandparents.

While he was on the phone, I moseyed around his office, envying his self-correcting IBM Selectric, noting that he’s still scouring the small presses for new authors (there was a letter from Curt Johnson of December on his desk). I found a schedule that lists the shipping date for my book as June 5; I think the publication date is June 25.

Wes took me to see Roy Thomas, the publicity director, and Jim Harris, a young guy who did the specs on my book and who is now taking over for Manny Weinstein as production chief. (I gather that Manny is very ill.)

Roy said he was just writing a memo about me. He’s sending xeroxed galleys to Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal and Soho Weekly News (I suggested Rochelle Ratner might review it there).

Roy told me to give him a list of everyone who might want review copies, and to start thinking about jacket copy. Finally, he told me to start going to the gym and working out “in case we get you on all the talk shows . . . and if we can’t, at least you’ll be well-built.”

Then Bobs came in and showed me how to proof the galleys. (Wes suggested that the phrase she’d used, “Grayson’s galleys,” sounded like the title of a TV sitcom.) I told her I’d bring the galleys back sometime on Monday. The proofreader has one copy and Wes had the other.

My God: it’s so exciting. Wes mentioned the coming tenth anniversary of my diary, and it made me think: Ten years ago I couldn’t have envisioned it, though I might have fantasized about it.

Today’s mail brought an invitation from Susan Lloyd McGarry to a party in Cambridge on Saturday night for the publication of the new issue of Aspect. In my Brooklyn College mailbox was a note from Susan Fromberg Schaeffer saying hi and some other junk.

Finally, the Chief Justice Burger parody came out in Student Lawyer: my first publication in a slick magazine.

I taught usage – an easy lesson – to my veterans today, and then I delivered the Class Notes to Marie; it is a relief to be done with them. Tonight I’m having my Small College students write, and I’m doing the same thing with the veterans tomorrow.

I looked good today: Dad gave me one of these nice shirts he’s selling, and I wore my blue peacoat for the first time.

It’s hard to believe the weekend is almost here already because the week feels as though it hasn’t yet begun.

Friday, March 2, 1979

4 PM. The last three days have been among the best of my life. The weather has been perfect. At this moment, the sun is shining, birds are twittering, and it’s nice and warm. It looks like an early spring.

Ah, Friday. Three days ahead of me to relax. Tonight I’m seeing Ronna, and we may go to a poetry reading in Park Slope.

Last evening the invitation to the Aspect party reminded me of Caaron, so I called her, and we had a good talk. She likes her job and is very happy. I told her I’d come up to Boston one of these days.

In my English Department mailbox last evening, I found the observation report: Mr. Fodaski rated me as “good, overall” but suggested I should be less nervous (“pointless, I know”) and spend more time answering questions.

I signed the forms and decided to waive the post-observation conference with Lillian Schlissel: no sense making the three of us come in just to chat. With my Small College class, I discussed Word Play and had them write an essay.

While they wrote, I began correcting my galleys. I had been afraid to look at my stuff, as I figured it would sound sophomoric, tasteless and sentimental all at the same time. But the stories read very well. It was the first time I looked at the material as a book, one story leading to another to form a uniformed whole, and I was impressed with Wesley’s sense of where the stories should go.

I didn’t feel embarrassed reading it. If it were someone else’s book, I think I would be obsessed with it, as I am with my favorite books. A reader will probably come away from the book with my – or should I say Richard Grayson’s? – view of the world, and in that way the book seems to succeed.

Like Disjointed Fictions, the book ends with a fragment of a dying story – “Forrestal Lecture” – and after that comes the very funny “notes on the type”: surely that’s not been done before.

Of course, it’s very difficult for me to say, but I think the book should be well-received. Some of my jokes fall flat, but there is, as Hank Malone suggested in in his review, “a haunting quality” to many of the stories. Wes tightened up many of my weak spots. I’m proud of the book.

Home at 11 PM, I proofread until 1 AM, finding some minor errors but nothing outrageous. I’m certain there will be typos that neither Wes, the copy editor nor I will spot.

Today I slept till 10:30 AM, a deep delicious sleep, and went to Kingsborough to collect my paycheck. On Monday the spring term begins there, and I’ll be a little sorry not to be teaching at Kingsborough again.

But I like my job at Brooklyn College now that I’ve gotten used to the hours. The work is easy, and I feel relaxed and I’m beginning to feel right at home on campus again.

I realized that I’ve completed four weeks of the semester, and in another five and a half weeks, it will be Easter vacation, and then there’ll be another five weeks after that. God, I’ve never known time to move so quickly.

This morning I waited on line at the bank for a long time. Although I have $1,000 in my account, I’m going to have to pay my dental bill for the crown. I’m hoping that my tax refund will come soon and help me out.

Mom and Dad are going to Florida tomorrow night; they, along with Marc, were supposed to go on Wednesday, but the car hadn’t come in yet because of all the snow. (Ironically, the car is in Trenton, but it has to be shipped to Florida before they can pick it up.) So Marc will be going down in a couple of weeks to fetch the car.

Junction accepted one of my stories – I don’t know which – for their next issue. That will make my third story in Junction, more than I’ve had published in any magazine. I’m glad it’s in a Brooklyn College magazine.

Tuesday, March 6, 1979

3 PM on a rainy afternoon. I could curse myself for being upset over, of all things, a TV soap opera – but I am. They killed off John Randolph on Another World, my favorite show.

I’ve been watching John since I was in junior high school: he’s been played by the same actor for fifteen years, and so, day in and day out, he’s been a constant in my life.

Lately there had been little for him to do, and in the end he died rescuing his former sister-in-law Alice from a fire set by a madwoman.

I feel lost, and I feel angry, and I can’t believe it. It strikes me that I’m having all the reactions I would have to the death of a loved one. Now I’ve gone over this ground in my “Go Not to Lethe” story, but it’s true.

I suppose it even helps people get over real mourning. And in a way, it makes me understand the fragility of our lives: it’s good to learn more about my reactions to death without anyone really dying. I feel less self-centered. And more human.

God, I’ve been very lucky. So what if I need root canal work or if I got turned down for the job at DePauw (I got the letter today)? I have a job I like, a nice home, a fine family, terrific friends, and all my stories.

Last evening I spoke to Alice, who said she and Peter had a terrific weekend in Boston. They saw one of his plays put on by high school kids and were treated like big shots; they attended the Hasty Pudding Show at Harvard; and Alice met Peter’s best friend John, who liked her a lot.

One night in Boston, Peter woke Alice up out of a sound sleep just to tell her how much she meant to him. She had assumed he wanted to take the sole pillow in John’s guest bedroom.

I’m glad for Alice. She told me she ran into Jim, her old flame, on the subway and realized that she no longer cared for him at all. She’s got Peter; she’s got Andreas (whose foot is still causing him trouble); and she doesn’t need any other involvements.

Alice is depressed because yet another book on roller-skating has come out. She was very interested in hearing about my galleys. I know Alice talks me up to all her friends.

It was raining hard when I got out of bed at 10:30 AM today. For a pleasant change, I was all alone in the house. It was warm – almost 60° — and I took my time showering and eating breakfast.

My veterans’ class went well. There’s a meeting of the Veterans Outreach Program English teachers on Thursday.

When I got home, I found the rejection letter from DePauw, and also a letter from Williams College that they don’t want me, either. If I don’t get a job – and right now my only hope is Rutgers, and I doubt that will come through – I’ll probably go to school in Albany. It won’t be so bad.

In the AWP Newsletter, I read that many of the SUNY-Albany students have been published and have awards and have taught. I can get paid $4,000 for going to school – and I’ve always loved that.

I finally heard from Chris McNeil today. He said he’s just been busy, that’s all. He answered a number of questions I had: He’s never been in love. He wants to be famous. He’s only just started getting serious about his career.

Chris is a bit pompous at times, but that’s because he’s young. (Ronna said the same thing about Jordan, the law student friend of Evan’s that she’s dated.)

Crad Kilodney also wrote. He’s depressed because his Canada Council grant application was turned down. Crad thinks the 1980s will be “a decade of mindlessness,” and I’m not sure he’s wrong.

Thursday, March 8, 1979

5 PM. My window is open and the sun is shining and I can smell spring across the street.

I’ve just read the opening chapter of Malcolm Cowley’s –And I Worked at the Writer’s Trade: Chapters of Literary History, 1918-1978, which I picked up at the Eighth Street, and already I can tell it’s a book I’m going to savor.

In his first essay, Cowley writes about the concept of “literary generations,” and he’s convinced me it’s the most important way of writing literary history. I feel I am part of a generation, too, and the work of my cohorts spurs me on, stimulates me, arouses jealousy and envy and a sense of brotherhood.

Most of all, it makes me feel less alone to know that Eric Baizer, Dennis Cooper, George Myers and so many others are working in veins similar to my own.

Brian Robertson and I are both 27, so we both see the Cambodia-Kent State uprisings of 1970 from the vantage point of lowerclassmen.

As Cowley points out, Ernest Hemingway’s World War II was not Norman Mailer’s World War II – and for me, World War II is some mythic event that people’s parents occasionally refer to.

It’s odd that so few writers who are now 30 to 35 seem to have made it. But the 1960s generation didn’t value writing very much.

To make a religion out of such a solitary and self-centered art – yes, I’m convinced that only by being self-centered can writers express truths about humanity – goes against the sharing, communal spirit of 1967’s Summer of Love.

Laurie told me that Harvey was over her house the other night lamenting the stagnation of the 60s generation. Of course, not all of them are as bad off as Harvey.

I put a notice in the next issue of Coda requesting submissions to a fiction anthology I’d like to edit: by writers under 30 by 1980; i.e., those born in 1950 or later.

Probably there won’t be enough responses to make a volume, and undoubtedly people will think I’m pompous – but surely people born in the same time period have as much in common as those who live in the same area or belong to the same ethnic group.

I’ve never read any Jewish-American writer who expressed the feelings of what it was like to grow up Jewish the way I did. I don’t remember a single incident of anti-Semitism in my childhood or adolescence: if anything, at Brooklyn College, I was discriminated against because people assumed I was Gentile.

That’s why I could write a story like “With Hitler in New York”; obviously, no one much older than I am could have done it.

Today I got a nice blurb from Norman Rosten, who called me “a Brooklyn mixture of Barthelme and Saroyan”; I’d give you the next sentence he wrote, but I’m too embarrassed to read it again. Rosten is a great guy, and I knew he’d come though when I wrote him.

Eric Baizer thanked me for the letter I’d sent him, praising his book; he also told me he’s using Great-Great-Grandma Sylvia Shapiro’s poems and death certificate in his magazine MOTA (Museum of Temporary Art) , and he put me on to a new publication, the Washington Book Review.

I sent the Rosten quote to Taplinger, and I’ve begun to compile a list of places I want review copies sent to. I wrote Dannye Romine, the book editor of the Charlotte Observer, whom I met at Bread Loaf in 1977; maybe she’ll do me a favor and print a review.

A very old (and very weak) story, “The Jet,” came out from a surprisingly good magazine out of Nashville called Maxy’s Journal.

When I went to Brooklyn College to teach this afternoon, the campus seemed springlike, with students hanging out on the steps of Boylan. I’ll have to go back tonight to teach my 9:30 PM class.

I called Terry Malley and his wife to say I’m coming to their annual St. Patrick’s Day party, and I spoke to Ronna, albeit briefly, as she was on her way to visit Leroy.

Sunday, March 11, 1979

5 PM. Winter returned today with cold temperatures and high winds. But the sun is still staying with us longer each day, and I have faith in spring.

I’ve just come from the Brooklyn College library. While I had had intended to take out a bunch of books, I became so depressed upon seeing the multitude of volumes of fiction written by American authors, I came home empty-handed.

There are so many books: books of short stories by authors I’ve never heard of, unread novels, never-opened books of poetry. I came away with the realization that my poor little book is going to sink without a trace, like 90% of the others.

Then, downstairs in the Reference section, I read the 1975 Library of Congress conference report on the publication of poetry and fiction, and I realized that I’m damned lucky to be having a book come out at all.

While I’m going to push Hitler all I can, I have to remember it’s very unlikely it will sell more than 500 copies, if that many.

My parents told me what’s going on in Florida. Grandpa Nat is the same, although he’s getting rigid from lack of exercise. When they first saw him, Dad asked if he knew who Mom was. Grandpa Nat gave him a sarcastic look and said, “Of course. Marilyn.”

“How does she look?”

“She put on a little weight.”

So he does recognize details like that. His gestures are still the same. Grandpa Nat gets angry when Grandma Sylvia nags him, but now when she comes, he kisses her arm, a gesture that struck Dad as pathetic.

The nursing home is a madhouse. One woman who looks like a witch keeps coming in Grandpa Nat’s room, lying on his bed with urine running down her legs. Dad yelled at her to get out, and in a moment of clarity, she said to him: “Don’t you have any pity, any rachmones? You may end up like me one day.”

They took Grandma Sylvia to the doctor. She has an enlarged heart and a leaky valve, but they didn’t tell her; she’s too old for them to operate, and she may have had this condition for years.

When the doctors found a ring around her colon, they wanted to put her in the hospital for tests, but Grandma Sylvia wouldn’t go, so instead the doctor will watch it over a period of months. The most immediate concern is to get her blood pressure down below its present 210/110.

And the doctor told her the best single thing she could do is to get a hearing aid; of course, she stubbornly resists that suggestion.

Mom and Dad took Grandma Sylvia to Social Security to see if she can get SSI. Mom said they are so cold in that office: no one at the desk will answer any questions, they just tell you take a number.

A young bearded guy walked in and the supervisor refused to speak to him, making him take a number. Finally, number 37 came out, and the woman called out, “38!” No one answered. She looked at the young man: “Are you 38?”

“No, I’m 27,” he replied earnestly, meaning his age. It turned out that he’d only come there to deliver a package.

Irv Littman launched his campaign to become mayor of North Miami Beach. Mavis thinks he’s a fool for running, and everyone from his city councilman brother Jules to his neighbor Meyer Lansky – they walk their dogs together in the morning – tried to talk him out of it, but Irv wants the prestige. (The job pays $3,800 and he’s spending more than that to get elected.)

Mom and Dad accompanied him to City Hall as he filed – there are two other candidates, both better-known – and watched his campaign in action, or rather, inaction. Irv thought that if he went to a Democratic dinner at which Chip Carter was speaking, they would introduce him – but they didn’t, and then they charged him $100 to join the club!