A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1979


Tuesday, October 2, 1979

9 PM. I feel better than I’ve been feeling. Odd how working seems to help, but now I feel I can handle things as they come. I’ll find an apartment.

Today I registered with another real estate broker and looked at an apartment, which was depressing, mostly because the landlady was a deformed, blind old Jewish widow.

It seemed as though she wanted companionship; she spoke lovingly of the 31-year-old “boy” who was leaving – and I just don’t feel up to getting involved in something like that. I want my life to be as cheery as possible and that house depressed me, seeming like a place for a misfit.

Last night I went to bed very early and slept like the emperor of REM. Up bright and early, my neck no longer stiff, I weathered the disappointment of not seeing a review in People (it’s time to give up now – but I’ll be back, and I know that one day my photo will be in People), and I weathered traffic jams caused by the Pope’s visit to get to the School of Visual Arts extra-early.

I had a good class, as I have a fine rapport with my students. Laurel Rossellini wrote a paper on bikinis, Speedos and orgasms today, so I think she’s flirting with me. She wrote something about “guys with just the right size penis.”

You can see I’m in a better mood because I’m thinking about sex. (I just watched an idiotic show called California Fever just for the purpose of looking at teenaged bodies.) Grrr.

While my students wrote, I looked over their journals; as with Laurel’s paper, I felt embarrassed reading about girls’ experiences with their boyfriends and the dilemmas an 18-year-old boy faces in 1979. But all the journals, like my diary, have a common theme: there are good days, there are bad days, they keep coming, and you never know which is going to be which.

I managed to get to Kingsborough in time although I felt as if obstacles were purposely being put in my way: a student demonstration (protesting their athletic coaches’ strike) on the Belt Parkway, campus construction which makes parking a pain in the ass.

While I had my first class write, I marked the SVA papers; in my second class, I lectured on sentence fragments. Although I hadn’t checked in at the office for days, I found no mail of consequence. However, I am expecting to be observed soon, and I’m sure it will happen on a Tuesday.

Still, even with the hectic commute, Tuesdays aren’t all that difficult. I’ve been taking everything life has been throwing at me, as well as some brickbats I’ve been throwing at myself. This afternoon I found time to exercise, to look at apartments, and watch a soap opera: Another World, my favorite.

I’m certain some monkey wrench will occur this week, probably on Thursday again, but I’ll be ready for it. As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.

When I spoke to Elihu yesterday, he sounded very gloomy. The faculty strike at LIU is into its third week; if there’s no settlement soon, they’ll have to cancel the term.

It looks as though the LIU administration would like to close the Brooklyn Center, leaving it as a health sciences school with just enough humanities and social science faculty to fulfill state requirements. This could be a catastrophe for LIU’s teachers and staff.

Higher education, like publishing and everything else, is now just another consumer-oriented business. The whole world, as Crad Kilodney wrote me today, is one big McDonald’s.

Elihu, meanwhile, is working as a 9-to-5 temp on Wall Street. He’s got no time for his dissertation and little inclination for socializing.

Crad’s letter found him also in a depression. Crad has decided to stay off the streets for a few days because he was really feeling bitter. Sales have been lousy and he’s been ignored all over the place.

Dad said that no article about my campaign to draft NBC’s Fred Silverman for President appeared in the Miami News in the last week.

Disappointment, oh.

Thursday, October 4, 1979

9 PM. Where is the time? Like all workaholics, I am becoming an enemy of time. I can’t get everything accomplished in 24 hours. New items on the agenda keep popping up unexpectedly. I don’t even have time for a personal life; even I met someone I fell in love with, I don’t know where I’d get the time to have a relationship.

I hate living like this. I’ve got so much on my mind – finding an apartment, moving, getting from here to there, writing, teaching, preparing lessons and marking papers – that it makes me want to scream.

Josh called again this afternoon, wanting to chat aimlessly, but I didn’t have time. I feel as though I’m becoming obsessed with accomplishing things.

This morning it took me an hour and a half to get to Visual Arts. Thank God I like my class so much that they make teaching there a pleasure. Of course, the three hours traveling time back and forth is a real drag.

This afternoon I marked thirty atrocious papers on capital punishment from Kingsborough. Not only are my students illiterate, but they have no ideas and can’t express themselves logically.

I get calls for the death penalty for petty theft, pleas that “the capital” should publish “anyone whose [sic] bad,” and people who quote the phrase “an eye for an eye and an ear for an ear.”

How do I teach these people to think? What’s scary is that these people will be voting and making adult decisions. How can they apply for jobs? Understand the daily newspaper? Balance a checkbook? Compared to them, I almost have God-like powers.

It’s very depressing for me, though: an intelligent person dealing with the stupidest (is it “more stupid”? I can’t even remember anymore) . . . Oh, hell, I can’t really help these people.

I don’t want to spend my life as a remediation specialist, not unless the students are highly motivated (and Kingsborough students are not that). I dread meeting the community college students eight times a week, and I wish I’d taken the Brooklyn DES job instead because it would have been a snap.

Still, in two months I’ll feel grateful when the Kingsborough semester ends. If I get a decent job offer – in TV or publishing – I’d think nothing of leaving my students in mid-semester.

I got a form letter from George P. Elliott at Syracuse about the job I applied for. They want me to send them a copy of my book – as if I have all these copies lying about. I’ll tell you, academia stinks.

A guy from the Madison Review asked me for a story for their second issue; he said that many people thought “How I Repented My Winter Vacation” was great. It’s schizophrenic: sometimes I feel like I’m an important person and the next minute I’m treated like a nobody.

Debby Mayer wrote me a letter officially soliciting the Coda article. I’ll bet she’s surprised that I handed it in so soon that my submission crossed her letter in the mail. Well, that’s old compulsive Richie for you.

I received a copy of Brian Robertson’s Siege of Hampton Mall, published by Manor Books. While it certainly looks junky, the writing is good. If, instead of being stuck in the backwaters of Texas, Brian knew people in New York, he probably could have had a best-selling thriller.

Today, in my one weekday afternoon totally off, I read magazines and papers in the library for an hour, then fetched my car at the service station. Bob said my tire can’t be fixed, so that means more money I’ll have to shell out.

I’m sick of perpetually being on the verge of success. I want enough money to live on and enough time to work at something interesting.

An NEA fellowship would be a wet dream come true; unfortunately, the logical pragmatist in my head knows I’ve got no chance at it. Still, I let myself fantasize about the $10,000 because I know in a couple of weeks the dream will be dead.

Friday, October 5, 1979

8 PM. Four hours ago I walked into Dr. Pasquale’s office feeling overwhelmed by the many things I’ve been writing about here. I told him that I often feel there’s no way out. And then I begin thinking of suicide.

Now that we have to park along the water at Kingsborough due to construction, I’ve been having fantasies of plunging my car right into Sheepshead Bay. I don’t really think I want to commit suicide, but I do feel as though I’d like to hide out from life.

Dr. Pasquale and I tried to explore the mechanism at work there and how I can learn to understand and then control it.

I’m having a great deal of trouble understanding things emotionally even though I understand them intellectually all too well. In fact, I often use my intellectual insights to negate feelings that are “silly” or “very natural but unwarranted.”

Sometimes I think I’m handling some problem really well when all I’m doing is intellectualizing a solution I don’t really comprehend. Despite all my achievements, I feel I am basically worthless.

Dr. Pasquale is constantly pointing out the many resources I have and my willingness to change, but part of me doesn’t want to hear it. There are satisfactions in behaving neurotically, although as I get older, the pleasures are getting fewer.

What would I like? Money. A lover. A nice apartment. A job that satisfied me. Skip the fame and fortune for now, okay? Dr. Pasquale pointed out that I’ve been working hard to achieve all my goals.

Maybe it’s only a matter of time. Deep down, I know that. Life is not just getting worse and worse.

Even with Dad in Florida, things have started to go well. For three weeks, he’s gotten at least one good order a day, and today he got a very good line of cheap jeans to sell. Maybe everything will work out for my parents in Florida, and for me up here, too.

I may not like Kingsborough, but it’s not horrible. Today, for example, I enjoyed my classes and I got my evaluations back from last spring at Brooklyn College. Overall, my students rated me 5.9 on a scale of 1 to 7; I guess that’s pretty good. And in little more than nine weeks, this term will be over; I’ll just wait it out.

When I called Alice, she told me that after her evening with Herb Srebnick, she finds him “insufferable.” Peter disliked Herb, but not as much as he expected to, given what Alice had said about him.

Peter told her he thought Herb was gay, and Alice asked me my opinion. I felt creepy because I’ve never told Alice – my oldest friend – of my own gayness. Hell, I’ve never mentioned it in so many words to my own therapist! Today I answered two Voice ads from guys who sounded nice.

Last night I had this wonderful dream about Joan Didion. She came to visit me, and we fell in love instantly; the whole dream was one idyllic fantasy after another.

Taplinger’s Gerald Krimm sent me all the reviews of Hitler to date. There was a new one, a horrible review in the Penn State Collegian, which began: “Richard Grayson teaches at a college I’ve never heard of. His dust jacket boasts that he’s published 125 stories in magazines I’ve never heard of. And unfortunately, most of his stories won’t be heard of, either.”

It’s a pretty dumb review, obviously, and it ends, incredibly, by saying parts of my book “go part of the way toward indicating a promising young American writer.”

There are now eleven reviews. Gerald also sent an AP story by Jerry Schwartz which appeared in the Asbury Park Press on August 6. It’s a long, funny piece that mentions With Hitler in New York. I’m pleased to see all my cute quotes in print.

B. Dalton wrote that they’ve ordered WHINY for fifteen of their high-volume stores.

Tuesday, October 9, 1979

7 PM. I’m utterly exhausted, and if I don’t get sick, it will be a miracle. But I think I’ve found an apartment that I like. However, I won’t know if I have it until tomorrow, so I don’t want to get my hopes up. But my anxiety has lessened.

After a bunch of places, this was the first apartment I saw that I fell in love with at first sight. I found an ad for it in today’s Times. It’s $240 a month, more than I wanted to spend, but I suppose I can swing it.

It’s in Rockaway, not Brooklyn. I realized that if I’m without my car, I can always borrow Grandpa Herb’s, which he rarely uses. The building is by the boardwalk on Beach 118th Street.

At first the woman didn’t want to let me look at it: “You’re too young and you’ll have wild parties.” But I convinced her that I wasn’t a toomler, and I won her over.

There is one big room, carpeted, and with new linoleum. There’s a small kitchenette with a new refrigerator and a modern bathroom and a walk-in closet. It seems very cozy, a place I could be happy in.

There’s a magnificent view of Rockaway, Jamaica Bay, and a faint Manhattan skyline in the distance. It’s apartment 5J, 129 Beach 118th Street: a nice address.

I called the realty company and gave them Kingsborough, the School of Visual Arts, Taplinger, and my bank accounts and social security number as references. Hopefully they’ll let me know tomorrow.

I’ve always loved Rockaway Beach, and I’d be close to my grandparents (fifteen blocks away) in case of emergencies, and two blocks from the subway and the bus to the Junction.

But I’ll say no more about it so as not to give myself a kinahora. If it happens, it happens; I’ve become fatalistic.

Bobbi Stein, the photo editor of US Weekly, told me to send in a black-and-white photo. If they print it, it will be great; if not, not.

My car held up okay today as I drove to Manhattan in the rain. As usual, I had a pleasant class at SVA as my students wrote. I got to Kingsborough on time for a change and had one class write; in the other class, we discussed Langston Hughes’s “Salvation.”

Although my stamina for teaching has increased, I would prefer a lighter schedule.

When I came home, there were messages to call various brokers, but I decided to go to Rockaway after seeing the ad.

I got loads of mail today. The Black Review arrived with my very primitive drawing of a man; it’s weird to see my artwork in a magazine. The magazine Earthwise sent me a check for one dollar for my poem ab
out Grandpa Nat.

Also, David Vancil in Texas asked my permission to reprint “Hitler” for a creative writing class; he said he’s ordered the book for the school library.

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, which apparently still considers me a fellow, said they wanted to do an update on fellows for their newsletter.

A writer queried me about the under-30 anthology, which I’ve got to get moving on, and Ray Rollinson, “the grandson of Crazy Horse,” who’s a bit crazy himself, sent me his Vice Presidential campaign material. My rival is weird.

In addition, Joel Weinstein of Mississippi Mud sent me the clipping about my candidacy from the Portland Oregonian. He said it appeared on the Sunday book page; it was part of the AP story.

Wish I’d Done That Department: An author mad at Harcourt Brace because they failed to promote his novel buzzed the UN with a Cessna plane today and got the first ten minutes on the 6 PM news. He’s in jail now, but maybe he’ll sell a few more copies.

Friday, October 12, 1979

8 PM. Tonight I feel more relaxed than I have in weeks. I’ve just come back from Rockaway, where I signed the lease for my new apartment.

Mrs. Callman, who’s very garrulous, told me her whole life story and kept saying, over and over, “A monster moved out and an angel moved in.” Evidently the tenant before me, a middle-aged bachelor, wasn’t very nice.

Frances – Mrs. Callman – insisted on taking me up to my apartment to see “the magnificent view” at night. “Did you ever see a view like that?” she said. Actually, it is pretty nice: I have Jamaica Bay, the Marine Parkway and Verrazano bridges, and the jewel-like skyline of Manhattan in the distance.

This afternoon I took Mom to see the apartment, and it passed even her inspection. “I’m really impressed,” she said afterwards. We met the super, Don McGuinness (“a perfectionist,” says Mrs. Callman), and Mom said she would take care of him if he took care of things.

Mom is a wizard when it comes to organizing a household, and I’m grateful to her for helping me make the transition. (I told Mom if she wrote a book on household hints, it would sell a mint.)

I went to the bank and sent a teller’s check to the real estate office.

Marc also took an apartment. His is in a private house on Avenue Z and East 11th Street. Mom said it needs more work than mine does, but Marc’s got a better location, five blocks from the Sheepshead Bay station.

The only qualm I have about living right on the beach is that it’s so far from everything. But I don’t go out during the week, and if I drive home on weekends, it’s only about ten minutes further than where I’m living now.

I told Mikey, who was surprised, but who said at least I know people around me: his mother, Larry, the Karpoffs, Stacy, my grandparents. Most of my friends live in Manhattan anyway, and I wouldn’t be much closer to them if I lived in Sheepshead Bay.

Mikey got a job as law assistant to Acting Supreme Court Justice Leon Becker in the Criminal Term. Today was his first day on the job, and so far he enjoys it. I’m glad Mikey finally found work, and he’s so happy that he’s planning on having a party soon.

Mikey told me that last night, he went out with his friend Linda, and they were joined by her friend Richard (who’s apparently getting over the divorce from June), his brother and sister-in-law (who are moving to England because Steve got a job editing a magazine in Canterbury), and Slade (Mikey said he didn’t remember where Slade was working).

Exciting things are happening to all of us. Last night Teresa told me that she didn’t go to Texas for Jan’s wedding; instead, in an Upper West Side bar, she met the man of her dreams.

Paul is 34, divorced, Jewish, childless, sexy and very, very rich, with a ten-room co-op on West End Avenue. They’ve been seeing each other every night since – he was asleep when I called – and Teresa sounded like it was serious.

Today my classes at Kingsborough went well: I had lots of enthusiasm and we had a couple of great lessons. Still no word on observations, but Louise Jaffe said she’d love to have me read a story at the student-faculty poetry reading, if it comes off.

I was stopped by a security guard as I was about to drive my car off the campus. “You look extremely young,” she told me. “Like 18 or 19.” I showed her my faculty ID. While I guess I do appear to be very young, I don’t really see it myself.

Epoch rejected the stories they solicited, and Dr. Marvin Fisher, chair of the English Department at Arizona State, said I’m lucky he admires chutzpah because my application came postage due.

Dr. Pasquale and I focused on the mechanism by which I turn a situation (not getting an apartment, a rush hour delay, a stolen battery) into a whole negative mindset, complete with thoughts that there’s no way out but suicide.

“There’s always a way out,” said Dr. Pasquale. “Especially for someone like you.” I have my finger on this mechanism, but it will take time to unlearn this behavior.