A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1979


Monday, April 23, 1979

7 PM. Tomorrow I go back to school. This long vacation, though, has spoiled me, and I don’t feel like working very hard – especially if the weather stays as good as it was today. It felt like early summer when I went out this morning. There wasn’t the hint of a chill in the air and I was quite comfortable in my shirtsleeves without a jacket.

I drove to Kingsborough to collect a check for $12; the 4% cost-of-living increase was retroactive to last December, and every little bit helps. After cashing the check in Kings Plaza, I came home, where Mom told me that Wes had called.

He said my first review had come in – from Publishers Weekly – and he and Louis were quite pleased with it. Wes read me the review. I can’t remember it, but they did say I was “bright and witty” and the only hedging was final “if contrived,” about my stories.

Oddly – to both Wes and me – they chose to highlight the weaker stories in the book: “Lincoln on the Couch,” “In the Lehman Collection,” “Classified Personal.” But the review made my book sound like fun, anyway, and I was happy.

Wes said it’s good that PW reviewed it this early so we can use the quotes. Last week I wrote Judith Applebaum at PW, asking her if she could see that the book was reviewed; now I don’t have to worry. Wes said he’d send me a xerox.

Incidentally, what Wes was so shy about was sending me a story for the anthology. “I’m sure I’ll like it,” I told him, and then added, laughing, “I’d better.” The mail is so slow that I still didn’t get Wesley’s story today, but I did get letters from three widely-scattered friends.

Caaron, in Boston, saw the Aspect piece and said she thinks of me often. Her life is messed up because her supervisor at work fell in love with her. He’s married and guilty and scared, so they’re not sleeping together – but he’s gone back into therapy. Caaron wishes she had another man to be interested in her, but all she’s got are “friends.”

Tom Whalen says things are fine in New Orleans and that my “Greatest Story” will be in the next issue of Lowlands Review, due out next month.

Chris McNeil writes that he’s up for a part in a film and hopes to finally get the job: “I think I’m the most popular unemployed actor in L.A.” He thanks me for letting him “be crazy” in a letter to me; I think he’s usually too under control. Chris said he hates reading about himself in the third person in newspaper accounts because it makes him feel like a fictional character.

By the afternoon, it was both sunny and 75°, so I bought a patio chair at Christie’s and sat in my shorts in the backyard for two hours. I have the start of a nice sunburn.

When I went to Brooklyn College at 5 PM to collect what was in my departmental mailbox, I chatted with Bruce, who said he, too, is not in the mood to teach anymore.

Tonight Cousin Robin called, saying she got a job as an assistant teacher in a South Bronx day care center, where she’ll be the only white person. It sounds like Robin is out of her last depression, which was probably chemical rather than psychological.

Anyway, Robin sounded strong and said she’s off Tofranil and is leaving therapy. Her unemployment checks last until July, but she wants to go back to work now while she’s feeling better.

Tuesday, April 24, 1979

4 PM on a hot, sunny afternoon. It’s almost time for the air conditioners.

I decided to pull the plug on my TV today after watching a program which made me realize how dependent I am on the tube. Usually I just use it for background, but that’s viewing too, and when I spend six to eight hours a day with the set on, it’s time to stop.

I called Teresa and learned she got fired from the public library on Friday; they said her job is being eliminated. She can collect unemployment insurance immediately, but she’s strapped for cash and may sublet her apartment in June so she can afford summer shares in a Fire Island beachhouse. Teresa told me to come to dinner on Friday; there’ll be about a dozen people there.

Out of the house at 10 AM after a good night’s sleep, I got a haircut at Avenue T. While I would have liked to deepen my tan today, I had to work.

Wes’s story arrived today – he’d mailed it last Wednesday – and so did the xerox of the Publishers Weekly review (which he mailed yesterday). Here it is:

Grayson pokes fun at American life – politicians, business, television and fads – in these sharp, witty stories populated by such figures as Farrah Fawcett-Majors, “Chief Justice Burger, Teen Idol,” and Sarah Lawrence of Arabia. Abe Lincoln, who isn’t the least bit interested in slavery, sprawls on a couch in total apathy as Stephen Douglas makes love to Mary Todd upstairs. The degeneration of love in an alienated society is sketched in “Classified Personal,” a collection of ads signed by Sappho, The Impotent Kid, Take Me I’m Yours, and other lonely hearts in search of potential mates. “In the Lehman Collection,” a boy jogs 11 miles a day through the Main Gallery, a family takes a tour in their Winnebago, and a man is stabbed, unnoticed. The staccato style, laced with puns and wisecracks, is apt for these amusing if somewhat contrived satires. [June 15]

I guess it would be a rave except for the last clause. But, hell, I’m thrilled with it: it gives me legitimacy as a writer. As I ate lunch in the faculty dining room in Boylan, I looked it over. I’m glad I didn’t see anyone I knew because I would have made a fool of myself showing it to them.

I couldn’t help thinking that ten years ago, a scared 17-year-old just recovering from my long depression, I came to the Brooklyn College campus for the first time.

Now I’m a scared 27-year-old, but I’m a faculty member and the author of a real book reviewed in this week’s Publishers Weekly.

My veterans’ class went well. I discovered, to my surprise, that I’d missed these guys, who are not idiots; sometimes they amaze me with their out-of-left-field intelligent remarks.

Back home, I read Wesley’s story about copping heroin, “Artists Are Allowed.” Luckily, but as I expected, it was good: fresh, tight, funny.

Cheri Fein of Poets & Writers sent me an excellent story, “Mobiles,” which is very much in the style I love. Cheri’s a friend of Brad Gooch, and I think he’s mentioned in the story. I immediately wrote to tell her I was using it; she sounds very likable. I’m getting more excited with each new story I get.

This anthology is a good project for me. Maybe I could try to interest Taplinger, but I’m not going to push Wes or his father. The anthology is definitely worthy of getting published, but it will probably be done by a small press.

Thursday, April 26, 1979

3 PM on a mild, rainy afternoon. I feel lazy, though maybe it’s my sinuses.

Yesterday afternoon I drove into Manhattan, hoping to see Woody Allen’s new movie Manhattan, which I’m sure is terrific. But the film’s showings for the rest of evening were sold out.

Luckily, I found a legal parking space off Washington Square, and I called Ronna at her office. She was working late but said she’d meet me at Broadway and East 8th Street at 6 PM. I browsed through bookstores for an hour and found Ronna at the appointed time.

She looked weird because she was wearing a dress of her mother’s. Last night Ronna had gone to the theater with her mother and the Oil of Olay women and slept over in her mother’s room at the Warwick Hotel.

I wanted to eat the either The Cookery or Kipling’s Last Resort, but Ronna wanted to save money, so we walked up University Place and had dinner at Amy’s, an inexpensive falafel place. It was good to spend last evening with her, especially since she left today for a weekend in Pennsylvania at Pat’s.

We talked about my PW review: for the first time, I think Ronna was impressed – but not overly so. She did say Susan was “incensed”; I know I would be furious if Susan were the one having a book coming out.

Ronna said Deanna was so funny last week when she came up for her interview. Deanna said her father drives her to the subway station every morning, and that if Marc marries her, Marc will drive her to the station, too.

Ronna had her flute with her; she said she’s getting better. We talked about her office and my teaching and we had a pleasant drive home. On the way to her house, we reminisced about Meyer Levin Junior High School and actually sang the old school song:

Cheer, cheer for our junior high
Like Meyer Levin, we aim for the sky
We carry a banner of red and white
We like the red: it stands for might
The white is for honesty, kindness and truth
These are the emblems of red-blooded youth
Cheer for Levin Junior High
Our banners will touch the sky

(The words were by our Music teacher, Miss Sandler, aka “The Beak.”)

It’s delightful to see Ronna every so often. I dropped her off in Canarsie with a hug and a couple of kisses.

When I got home, Dad told me that fluid has been leaking from where his tumor was, and he called the surgeon, who said Dad has Frey’s syndrome. Dad’s brain sends saliva to the parotid gland when he’s hungry to make his mouth water, but due to the surgery, the side of his cheek waters, too.

Mom is becoming just like her mother and forgetting our names. The other day I heard her calling Marc, “Jonathan. . . Richard. . . Marc,” just the way Grandma Ethel does. Mom just can’t understand it: “I’m taking pills that are supposed to be good for my brain: RAN and DAN . . . I mean RNA and DNA.”

On campus early this morning, I ran straight into Jack Gelber coming out of the English Department. I nodded and he nodded back. Later, I met Pete Cherches for lunch in the faculty dining room. He subscribes to Publishers Weekly and so was one of the only people I know who saw my review, which he thought was good.

We chatted about his MFA program and the small press scene. He hates Columbia but plans to go on for his doctorate somewhere. I wish I were as definite in my ambitions as Pete. I’m not certain I want to teach in a university. Maybe Pete wants to teach because he never has – though he’s hoping for a job at BC this summer.

For a change, my veterans’ class went well as we discussed logic. Right now I feel sleepy and wish I didn’t have to teach tonight.

Saturday, April 28, 1979

3 PM. It’s raining again though it was sunny this morning. Going to Teresa’s party last night did me a world of good.

It was a pain in the ass to drive up there in the rush hour traffic, and by the time I got uptown, I was in one of those “Everything in New York City sucks” moods. But sipping some wine in Teresa’s apartment calmed me down.

It was a lovely birthday party, with very good people, as usual. Teresa looked wonderful. This morning she had gone to a job interview in Jamaica for a PR position with the Long Island Rail Road.

Jan looked especially radiant: she’s lost fifteen pounds and was wearing a yellow chiffon dress; her affair with the Texan psychologist seems to have caused her to blossom.

She told me it keeps getting better. The night before, he took her to the River Café and then to Staten Island on the ferry. I envy Jan’s romantic life – and so did everyone else.

Marilyn and Larry were there although Larry came late because he had to see his shrink. I guess they’re not that obnoxious; they might actually be endearing in a Queens-accountant-type way (like Gary?).

Judy and her husband from down the hall brought their sweet-tempered 13-month-old son Adam, whom I had fun playing with as Karen gave him her little Woodstock the bird toy. I like Karen a lot. She’s busy with her work in the theater, and this summer she’ll be managing a company in Vermont.

Barbara and David were there, of course. Barbara’s been doing some modeling and had a spread in the New York Times Magazine. David’s still with Cambridge Press, now headed by the woman who replaced Don.

David and Barbara are going to this “Couples Retreat” in Jamaica, and David showed me the brochure for the club, which – unbelievably, to me – features two lions fornicating as their logo.

Teresa also invited two people from the library: Molly, a cute 19-year-old aspiring artist who makes posters, and Roger, a tall, slender, boyish guy who directs the literacy volunteers. I got small crushes on both of them.

Molly looked up to all of us as rich and “with it” and successful. She’s from Binghamton, is a born-again Christian, and in her ingenuous naïveté reminded me a little of Libby.

Roger wants to move into Teresa’s building, where he’d sublet an apartment for a month. He’s a Jewish English major who lives with his parents on Staten Island.

Teresa was babysitting for some plants and a bird, who ate himself out of his cage and hung around on the curtain rods all night. Naturally, it didn’t occur to me to bring a present – I told Teresa I’d take her out to dinner soon – but she got some lovely gifts from her neighbors.

There was a buffet dinner of turkey, salad, zucchini and cranberry sauce, and then a cheesecake (home-baked by Teresa) and a birthday cake. Teresa reminded me of the year when she had mono and I had to blow out her candles for her.

Oscar, the Puerto Rican super, came up with a bottle of scotch, as did that elderly Italian gent who has his eye on Teresa. For his sake, I had to pretend to be her boyfriend, but I rather liked doing so, especially since Teresa ostentatiously gave me a backrub in front of this old guy.

Leaving the party at 11:30 PM, I had a slight anxiety attack coming home
but weathered it nicely. Today Iron Magazine in England accepted two stories: “The Forthright Saga” and “The Second Person.” I got three more submissions to the anthology.

I feel very relaxed. Tonight we lose an hour’s sleep.

Monday, April 30, 1979

4 PM on a sunny afternoon. I began running this weekend, and evidently I overdid it because my calves are incredibly sore, and just walking around today has been painful.

Not much is going on. Last evening I spoke with Alice, who was very relieved after having just finished her book in the afternoon. She said she’ll take a rest before going on to another book project and that next time she’ll get a topic more interesting to her than roller skating.

When I called Mikey, all was boredom and drudgery with him, except for a weekend spent with a friend in the Hamptons.

Last night I was bored and in no mood to study or write. I began rereading Point Counter Point, and I can see what I admired about it. Huxley’s very intelligent, and if the story is loaded with too many characters, he does handle the transitions well.

This morning I went to the bank to avoid tomorrow’s first-of-the-month crush, and then I drove over to the college, where Allen Ginsberg was giving a poetry reading at SUBO.

It was quite crowded; I sat behind Neil Schaeffer and Steven Jervis, the two candidates for English Department chairman. Many faculty members were there, including Jack Kitch, Bart Meyers, and Charles Sleeth.

Ginsberg was wearing a white shirt and a tie, and accompanying him was a young kid with a guitar.

Aside from the Naropa Institute, Brooklyn College is his first teaching experience, and the woman MFA student who introduced him read a poem he recently wrote, called “At Brooklyn College,” a humorous look at being “Professor Ginsberg” and how he got an ID card and office hours and got to meet the departmental secretaries.

I’ve seen Ginsberg read before, and he’s always a good showman. He started singing Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, read his Plutonian Ode, and then switched to some formal early poems he wrote when he was “MFA age.”

He read poems and sang songs about the Beat years, about gayness (“Everybody’s got a little homosexual inside him / Even if he doesn’t want it”), about punk, and three moving poems – his best recent work, I think – on the death of his father.

Allen Ginsberg seems so together, as though he’d accepted being fucked-up. Woody Allen seems to have done the same thing, to have accepted his neuroses as nourishment for his art and humor. I would like to be able to do that one day.

One thing I’ve learned is that just getting older seems to help. I am still insecure, but I no longer worry so much about things which used to bother the hell out of me.

I don’t much care if people don’t like me. I’m not as afraid to express my opinion. I don’t worry as much as I used to about making a good impression, and I’m not that afraid of making a fool of myself.

Nine years ago this time of year at Brooklyn College was when I entered LaGuardia Hall as a student government elections commissioner, met Mark Savage and the others, and took part in the strike and takeover following the Cambodian invasion and the killings at Kent State and Jackson State.

That year, 1970, was the year I really began to function, to make friends, to be a part of things. A year earlier, 1969 – a decade ago – I was just coming out of myself after months in the house, and I made a few tentative visits to the college, carrying a notebook and hoping nobody would notice that I didn’t belong.