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


Sunday, February 18, 1979

7 PM. Blagh – I just turned off the news. China has invaded Vietnam in retaliation for Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia; Russia has threated to intervene. Iran is in the hands of the fanatical Ayatollah: Americans are fleeing Tehran, and Yassir Arafat has been promised Iranian support for the PLO. Gas prices are supposed to rise to a dollar a gallon soon, and prospects for an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty are dim.

Last night at Alice’s party, I was talking to Jeane, and we were speculating on what world events would take place in the next twenty years. In 1960, who could have predicted what has taken place between then and now?

What changes will the year 2000 bring? Another war, another holocaust, great changes in the way we live our lives? Will inflation ever come under control? But let me turn away from the harder questions – or maybe they’re the easier ones; I don’t know anything today.

Today I slept till 1:30 PM, the latest I’ve woken up in many years. Eating breakfast at 2 PM, I felt queasy, and the rest of the day did not seem so much like a day as a passage between two dreams.

The temperature went down to zero last night – a new record – and the wind-chill factor was 40° below zero. Snow is on its way, but by the end of the week the temperature is supposed to go above freezing for the first time this month.

Last evening I picked up Ronna at 6:30 PM and we drove into the city; I’ve hardly been in Manhattan since the year began. Ronna and I had dinner in Shakespeare’s, sparring lightly during it as we often do.

We were among the first guests to arrive at Alice’s. Andreas was already there, as were Jeane and her boyfriend. Soon more people started coming in, one after another, until the party became quite crowded.

I spoke with Anita about book publishing gossip and to Keith about the accounting business. It was good to see Judy and her boyfriend Dave, who are writing songs with Alice.

Ronna and I met Richard Gruber, the 19-year-old writer whose work appears in Seventeen and in the Leisure section of the Daily News, who came with his girlfriend Jacqui.

June arrived with Cliff and his brother, who works for a Washington consulting firm. As usual, June is freelancing; she’s hoping to write a book for children – but it would have to be on an interesting topic and “not roller skating.”

Janice and her date showed up in formal evening attire; her calligraphy book is going slowly, she said, and she’s scared of the hard work involved.

Andreas and Peter never seemed to meet, though at one point in the evening I was talking to both of them at the same time.

Laurel was there, as well as other people from Seventeen, and from Alice’s BMI music class: a nice bunch of people, those young and educated and ambitious young Manhattanites who are already being called, rather absurdly, The New Elite.

I hardly spoke to Alice, who was busy cooking and playing hostess – or to Ronna, who did not circulate the way I did but rather sat down and spoke to a few people: mostly one woman, I noticed.

When we left the party at 12:30 AM, thanking Alice and letting Peter rave on and on about Ronna’s smile, I asked Ronna who the woman she was talking to all night was.

It turned out to be Carol, the lover of Bill, Alice’s Village Voice personals friend. I told Ronna that Bill had wanted Alice to go to bed with both him and Carol, and Ronna said she sensed as much.

Back at Ronna’s house, we got into bed. As is usual lately, she came, but I had a hard time (no pun intended), and I told Ronna I couldn’t understand why we just don’t have vaginal intercourse instead of (or in addition to) everything else we do.

She said she loves me, but she doesn’t want that kind of commitment; if we did have intercourse that way, she said, she would want to be with me forever. How does she know that?

Also – and this makes more sense – there are times when she gets angry at me and doesn’t like me very much; I agreed that we are not very compatible. Yet by now each of us is so much a part of the other’s life that neither wants to give up our friendship.

We got out of bed, Ronna in her pink bathrobe, and talked as friends till 4 AM. We decided to play things by ear. We can’t seem to stop caring about each other.

Tuesday, February 20, 1979

3 PM. The snow has melted a bit, as the temperature is 37°. But what a mess!

I’ve just come home from Brooklyn College. I’m still adjusting to being there. One thing that makes me feel uncomfortable is that, unlike at Kingsborough or LIU, I have no office, nowhere to hang my hat (if I had a hat) and that I feel like a stranger in the English Department office.

The college seems to be in a state of chaos; the Times used the term “administrative chaos” on Sunday. Today there was no heat in much of Boylan and Ingersoll, and I had the usual bureaucratic hassle trying to get my photo ID picture taken and validated: the same BC fuckups I’ve become accustomed to after a decade.

But at least now I can borrow books from the library, get into SUBO, and get my paychecks when they start coming in about a month. My veterans’ class is almost out of control, but I didn’t expect much better. I’ll just do the best I can with them, but I’m not going to break my back.

Still no word from Mr. Fodaski as to when he’s observing me. I don’t know whether to hope for it to be over soon or to hope that he’ll put it off until early March.

I had a bad night, not getting to sleep until 4 AM. I’m not sure I really do like sleeping late. At least in the past seven weeks, I got out of the house early, and that alone made me feel that I was accomplishing something.

Maybe I’ll feel better in a few weeks, when spring comes along.

Today I got more copies of the Washington Review of the Arts and some letters. Crad Kilodney expresses many of my own feelings when he writes:

Yes, I liked reading about myself in the Excalibur review, mainly because it’s still new to me – that is, reading about myself. But I think I’d feel terrible if I got panned.

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that being inoffensive is as important as being talented. I don’t want to be a target for anyone, and I’m very careful of what other people will think of me. I come off as being extremely shy and grateful for the slightest praise. I don’t bad-mouth people behind their backs, and I would never intentionally make an enemy.

My ego is the source of all my problems. I constantly have to shift between extremes. On some days I’m terribly vain; on others, I have an inferiority complex. When I act too self-effacing, I feel stupid, and when I get carried away by my pride, I feel guilty.

Me too, me too!

Scott Sommer also sent me a nice letter; I like him a great deal. He said he was drunk at Wesley’s birthday party and doesn’t know why he tried to ingratiate himself with people there. (If that’s what he was trying to do, it wasn’t obvious to me.) Scott wrote that I have more “aplomb” than he does and wonders if I’m older than he is. (I’m not.)

Len Fulton also wrote me a charming note; he said he was glad to know I still have faith.

But I feel very uneasy these days, unable to do any work. Next week my parents and Marc are going to Florida, and I wish I were going with them.

It would have been so pleasant to have these two weeks off if I taught only at Kingsborough this winter and spring. Or maybe it wouldn’t and I’d have been bored and miserable.

Last night I spoke to Alice and told her the party seemed to be a big success. Peter and Andreas didn’t really meet, although Peter said Andreas was handsome (why do I always think of Peter as being gay when he’s clearly not?). Andreas did seem to be having fun at the party; he’s more social than he lets on.

I feel as though I’m just waiting out life until spring and summer; I’m especially looking forward to going to Virginia. But I’m facing an uncertain autumn.

Thursday, February 22, 1979

3 PM. I feel sorry for you, my poor diary. Day after day, I burden you with my depressions and frustrations, and you don’t have any say in whether you want to hear about these things.

Well, now that I’ve opened this entry in schoolgirl-fashion, do I have to continue along this route? Right now I am angry rather than depressed.

I’ve just come from “teaching” my veterans – if that’s what you can call it. I can’t get through to them. These guys are so fucked-up, they can’t even follow a simple argument from its beginning to its conclusion.

They constantly interrupt with incredibly stupid irrelevancies, they are childishly vulgar, and I don’t have a prayer of educating them. To say it is almost to admit defeat, but I believe it’s too late for most of them.

They’re far worse than my English 23 class last fall at Kingsborough. If these guys weren’t my students, I would not want to have any contact with them. My frustration is that I’m wasting my time – or sometimes I’m afraid I’m not and that I’m not really any better than this job.

I like to think of myself, at least at times, as an intellectual and an artist, and occasionally, a genius. To Crad Kilodney, I quoted Henry Miller: “A genius looking for work is one of the saddest things in the world.”

I feel wasted teaching grammar. I don’t think I want to do it anymore. But then, what can I do? The advantage in this job is that I have to face my classes only six hours a week.

Last night Alice phoned to tell me that Anita got a call at her agency from Seymour Epstein at the University of Denver; he’s looking for a one-year replacement faculty member who is a published fiction writer and who has taught.

Anita, God love her, mentioned me, and this morning I phoned Anita and she gave me the details. So I sent off my résumé and cover letter, and I’ll hope for the best. Alice also mentioned that Soap Opera Digest is looking for a staff writer, and I’ll apply for that job, too.

And I suppose I’m just too impatient, that eventually something will turn up. I’m dispirited about the rejection from Andover: teaching there would have been an escape from my present unsatisfactory working life.

I find myself looking forward more than ever to this summer in Virginia. Summer: even on a 50° day like today, the summer seems so far away. But you go to an artists’ colony to write, and in the past year, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing. That scares me: it will take me a long time to relearn discipline.

Avis writes that they’ve been having an incredibly bad winter in Germany, that there are two feet of snow on the ground, and cars are banned from the streets. That must be especially depressing to the Germans, who are used to mild winters.

The world climate changes frighten me. Are we entering a Little Ice Age, such as the one between 1450 and 1850?

Avis says the reaction to Holocaust was incredible: the Germans finally seem to be facing up to what happened forty years ago. There are newspaper and magazine articles and TV shows and people finally feel free to talk about the Holocaust.

Despite the show’s Hollywood sheen, it did inform some Germans about events they were ignorant of, like the Jewish resistance and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Avis said they feel so ashamed, it’s almost as if they are afraid to face Jews now. This angers her, because they should have felt this way many years before.

Some “pigs,” as Avis calls them, are planning to make a TV series about a Vietnamese family and sell it to American television.

Friday, February 23, 1979

7 PM. Life suddenly seems exciting again – and it’s not just the possibility of war between China and the Soviet Union over Vietnam. No, it started yesterday when I began reading a book called Helplessness by Martin Seligman, a psychologist who has done many experiments on rats, dogs and humans.

He concludes what I’ve always believed: that helplessness is the main cause of depression, and that people will feel better if they just have the illusion of control. I define freedom as the ability to make choices, even if the choices are between two evils or one of the choices is illusory.

Last night’s Small College class went well, and I came home in a good mood, read until 1 AM, then dropped off to sleep. I dreamed I was back in high school, and I also dreamed that Grandma Sylvia died and I handled it well.

I guess I’m now prepared for my grandparents’ deaths, and they will not be as devastating as they would have been when I was younger. Certainly I’m lucky to be 27 and have all of my grandparents living.

Scribes, a magazine for senior citizens (and edited by them out at a school in Denver) accepted one of my stories about old people, and they asked me for a photo.

The mail also brought a “Winter Canticle” from George Myers, a lovely letter-poem bringing me up to date. George is moving to the editorial side of the paper soon, though there may be union troubles.

He asked if I’d come to his wedding on May 26, Memorial Day weekend. I’ll be delighted to: George is such a good guy. He sent me a new brochure for X, and it looks very impressive. George’s letter-poem was so good, it inspired me to write one in return, though I didn’t do it as well.

My veterans are so messed up; only a few of them are both capable of learning and want to learn, but in our class sessions they’re drowned out by the idiots. I hope Mr. Fodaski doesn’t observe a fiasco on Tuesday, but he probably will . . . Yet curiously, I don’t care.

I feel a part of Brooklyn College again. Kingsman printed my witty letter and the editors replied wittily; following my letter was one by Prof. Merritt. Today I went into Prof. Murphy’s room and borrowed chalk.

At the Alumni office, I got more Class Notes from Marie, and Elaine urged me to get a literary agent because she’s afraid I’m being cheated.

At this year’s National Arts Club Literary Award Dinner for Allan Ginsberg, the city’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner Henry Geldzahler admitted he was gay, reported Claudia Cohen in the Post’s Page Six. Too bad I didn’t get to go there, but there’s always next year.

The Post has been running this absurd series by James Brady, Tales of New York, in which he fictionalizes the gossip pages and tells outlandish stories about “the beautiful people.” Today ended Book One, the paper challenged readers to write their own episodes; the best ones will get printed. I wrote what I think is a good one, and I’ll send it in with my fingers crossed.

After all, various people – Brad, Josh, Peter – mentioned seeing my New York magazine competition entry, and more people would see my name as the author of a piece in the Post.

On nights like this, I believe I have it my power to become famous. And so I don’t feel helpless and so I don’t feel depressed. Besides, I have the luxury of three free days ahead of me.

Saturday, February 24, 1979

6 PM on a very rainy Saturday evening. Ronna and I are having dinner tonight; she had to postpone our date from last night, which was all right with me.

Today’s mail brought no letter from Chris, but I did get a nice note from Brian Robertson and also The Smudge came out. It’s a wonderful magazine, one of the best on the small press scene.

They printed “Is This Useful? Is This Boring?” in their little booklet; they printed my photograph in a glossy broadsheet, and someone named Hank Malone reviewed Disjointed Fictions in their review section:

Disjointed Fictions is a funny, very readable, collection of “short fictions” written by one Richard Grayson, a 26 year old, well-published MFA who teaches English in Brooklyn. Mr. Grayson’s premise appears to be that since he cannot write a piece of sustained fiction, like a novel, that he will instead write a book-length manuscript, building it, piece by piece, with clever fictions, ramblings, and fragments, a form popular in South America and probably best known to American readers in the work of Jorge Luis Borges.

These literary morsels and tidbits suggest a very fine talent, capable of much larger work; so the premise of an inability to sustain a longer fiction is, I think, clearly contrived for the purposes of doing this sort of thing: just jogging along in print, writing one’s heart out in a wide-ranging variety of styles and fictions, relating nearly everything and everyone (especially celebrities) to himself in some very intriguing ways. It is a wildly narcissistic narrative, on the surface: very bright, wise, very “Jewish,” very “New York,” and often very funny, if you enjoy “put-on” and a subtle kind of surrealism that bursts occasionally in all kinds of ironically wise ways.

Disjointed Fictions is full of fun for a literate reader (comix readers beware), with lots of puns and potshots at everyone and everything. And yet, it is a strangely haunting work as well. Grayson’s sense of logic is both conventional and precise, and with this book I have discovered another fine American talent whose future work should be more than a light entertainment. Grayson is both a philosopher and a class clown, and in Disjointed Fictions there is a lot of Talmudic wisdom showing up in the wisecrack format of the Marx Brothers.

This is not a book for everyone. Sometimes the cleverness turns to lead, and the fun and absurdity become merely frivolous detailing. On the other hand, I laughed a lot with it, and I suspect others will as well. This would be a thrilling Good Friday present to a disjointed friend.

Wow, that’s fantastic. I read it to Mom and Dad, and they were so proud. This Malone is a very shrewd reader – or do I say that just because he likes my work? This positive reaction to my work spurs me on to do better in the future.

I feel certain – or as certain as I want to feel – that I may be doing better than I expected fairly soon. (Damn that misplaced modifier.)

In the Times, it said that Paul O’Dwyer is organizing the Dump Carter movement, just as he led the Dump Johnson movement in 1967-68. Since I was 14, when I wrote O’Dwyer and he was very nice in return, I’ve always admired Paul, and now I’d like to help him in this.

Tuesday, February 27, 1979

7 PM. Today was a hectic day. This morning I lingered in bed for as long as possible, savoring my dreams of visiting Avis in Germany and walking up the marble steps of the U.S. Capitol during a heavy rainstorm: I knew only that I wanted to become the rain that was drenching me.

Nervous about my observation, I did everything I could to avoid getting upset. The mail brought an acceptance of “Kirchbachstrasse” from Paris Voices: that will be my first continental European publication. It was a mild, cloudy day.

Entering Boylan Hall, I ran into Prof. Schlissel, with whom I exchanged hellos, and then Jack Gelber and I ignored one another. I spoke briefly to Prof. Murphy; he called me Richard, which surprised me, as I did not think he knew my name.

The lesson turned out all right – better than most with the veterans, not a disaster – but it was unfocused. Mr. Fodaski smiled at the end, and I don’t know how seriously he takes his job as an observer. Anyway, it’s over – until I get a report in a couple of days and then we have a meeting with Prof. Schlissel.

Getting out of class, I felt relieved as I rode down the elevator with Sylvia Tomasch, who also teaches at Kingsborough. Then I left school and took the subway to Manhattan, to the Authors League’s annual meeting.

On the train, I sat next to Prof. Roberts, whom it was good to chat with. As I’d expect, he is depressed about the way things have gone at the college. So few students take Russian now that they have only two teachers. The students left are now mostly Soviet Jews who already know the language. And when students see the long reading list for the Dostoevsky course, it scares them away.

Now Prof. Roberts teaches sixteen hours a week and goes home to do his work right after his last class rather than hang around campus as he once did. He’s just had a book published and is working on the next.

So involved was I in the conversation with Prof. Roberts, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, that I missed getting off at my stop to transfer, and then I got a train that stank of urine, which made me ill. Walking from Bloomingdale’s to the St. Moritz on Sixth Avenue, I had a slight anxiety attack.

I’d missed the Authors Guild meeting, which began at 1:30 PM, and got there for the meeting of the Authors League, the parent organization of both the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild.

One old guy named Bruce Mulholland (the name sounds vaguely familiar) was very friendly to me and told me he drives a Rolls Royce; he was probably gay.

There were no very famous authors there, and the meeting was just an election, a brief report on activities by the group’s counsel, Irwin Karp, and mostly an hour-long talk on taxes by a specialist in writers’ accountancy. Bor-ing. I should have stayed home.

At 5 PM, I was swept along by the rush hour crowd and took the subway to DeKalb, stopping at Junior’s for supper before getting on the IRT.

I rode to the Junction with Frank Mejia, one of my students at Kingsborough this winter. He said he’s a graduate of BC, dropped out of Downstate Medical School, attended Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music.

Frank was going to Kingsborough for education credits, he said. He works for Columbia Records and said he’d just finished a session there. He told me he makes a fortune and lives with a dancer from the New York City Ballet.

I still have to teach the Small College class tonight.