A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1974


Friday, March 1, 1974

It’s about 9 PM and Ronna and I are in room 282 of the Raleigh Hotel in South Fallsburg. I feel pretty well except for a postnasal drip; I’m just hoping that I don’t break out into a cold overnight.

So many people couldn’t make it because of the flu that’s going around: Aunt Sydelle, Cousin Michael, Scotty Wagner (and thus their families didn’t come either).

Last night I got a call from Mikey, who’d just returned from a meeting of the executive committee of his Democratic club (he said ex-Bronx Rep. Scheuer is going to run for Congress this year in our district).

Mikey said he’s not too thrilled with the atmosphere at John Jay – it’s too rigid – but his criminal justice courses are okay. If I know Mikey, he’ll end up going to the student government office there.

I slept well and woke up this morning to find that everyone had gone; they left at 8 AM for the country. I filled up the tank with gas and went to LaGuardia at 11 AM.

Sid told me he’s definitely running for the Mugwump nomination for President at the caucus Monday night. I wonder if he’s going to have a hard time against Ron. I hung out in 142 and spoke with Cindy, Peter and even Joy.

Mrs. D gave me the phone, asking me to give driving directions to someone from Queens College, and I discovered it was Joe Mayerson, who was going to a conference Ben had called about the Lay Advocate program.

Ronna arrived at noon, and we left for lunch as Avis and Mikey wished us a good trip. After lunch in the deli, we left at 12:30 PM.

It was a pleasant ride up; although it was tiring and I was somewhat tense, we didn’t have to stop, going with the Thruway and Quickway.

We passed a lot of pretty mountain scenery and got to the hotel at 3 PM. It was embarrassing when we checked in as Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, but I didn’t know what else to do. The bellhop, who was very friendly, took us to our room, where we have twin beds.

Mom and Dad thoughtfully put us on a different floor from the rest of the party. Ronna and I relaxed for a while, then went downstairs to the lobby, where we saw Mom and Dad, Grandma Ethel, Grandpa Herb, Grandpa Nat and all the other people.

Back at the room, I lay on the bed and talked to Ronna, telling her how out of place I felt, how I’ve always felt “crazy” next to my parents, and how I feel I have to prove something this weekend.

She made me feel so much better. We had a good talk and ended up realizing that our relationship is pretty solid. We know it can survive breaking up, so we’re staying together, not out of habit, but because we want to.

As we dressed for dinner, we agreed we both have to lose weight; lately I’ve felt like a balloon. Ronna and I went down to the dining room for a typical Borscht Belt dinner with 17 courses.

Seated at a table with Marc, Rita, Bonnie, Steven, Joe, Debbie and Rhonda Cohen and Rhonda’s fiancé Ronald the dentist, we found the meal pleasant and the conversation surprisingly nice.

Mom and Dad sat with the relatives, Jonny with his friends and Wendy and Jeff. We had a birthday cake with one candle for Grandma Ethel (Bonnie said, “She’s one year old at heart,” but actually she’s the magical Beatles age of 64).

This lady photographer came by and kept telling us “sweethearts” to “smile big.” After a walk through the hotel, Ronna and I returned to our room.

Saturday, March 2, 1974

4 PM. Ronna’s lying down on her bed with a headache and I feel like just sitting in the room with her.

Most of the activities at a Catskills resort are not my cup of tea. I didn’t bring a bathing suit, and I don’t know how to ice-skate, and I’m not really in the mood for ping-pong or bingo or dance lessons.

But the time is passing quickly, and in a day we’ll be on our way home. My nasal drip went away, and I’m in good health except I’m probably ten pounds fatter from all this hotel food.

Ronna and I got into bed last night, she in that cute nightgown she wore in Washington and me in a blue T-shirt and blue briefs. It was so good to make love without our trusty Levis in the way.

Ronna is a generous lover; she held onto my penis, saying that she never thought she could get used to a man’s genitals, much less enjoy touching them. With Ronna, I feel like such a sexy and beautiful person; I just hope I make her feel that good.

At midnight I got into my own bed but couldn’t sleep; perhaps I got three or four hours. We were down for breakfast at 9:30 AM; everyone else at our table probably went to the nightclub show, so we were alone.

While having our big breakfast, we said hello to the other guests. At five years old, Jeffrey is so cute, and I enjoy playing with him. Dad and Mom are doing an excellent job as hosts, but I expected that. After I kissed Grandma Ethel good morning, Ronna and I went out for a walk.

A thick snow had just started falling, and the world was white and Christmas-y; there are so many bushes and evergreen trees and the air smelled fresh. We walked around the grounds, passing Grandpa Nat, who was going to get gas.

A couple of frisky dogs – Ronna said they were “Arctic retrievers” – came after us, but I wasn’t scared, as they seemed so perfect in the snow with their white fur.

Grandpa Nat passed us on the road as he came back from town and urged us to get back in the car, but we declined, preferring to walk back to the hotel. A little further up, we passed him: his car had skidded into a ditch. Ronna and I sat in the car for half an hour until Grandpa Nat came back with the AAA, who towed him out.

Marc, Joe, and Steven went skiing at Holiday Mountain with Marty, but when they came back, they said conditions were bad. Ronna and I went with Bonnie and Doris to watch a bossa nova lesson and then a killer game of Simon Says, which was won by Connie.

After a brief walk around the hotel, we returned to the dining room for lunch: chow mein and delicious mushroom-barley soup. I’m trying to enjoy myself as I endure the weekend. Tonight is the buffet in honor of Jonathan, and I have to be in Mom’s room at 6 PM to take photographs.

Sunday, March 3, 1974

Back home again. And once home, I realized what a nice time I had in the country. It was a good, change-of-pace weekend, and there were moments that were very good.

I went up to Mom’s room last evening at 6 PM while Ronna was in the shower, to take part in the photographing of the family. The photographer shot pose after pose: Jonathan with me and Marc, with Mom and Dad, alone, with his talis and Bible; it reminded me of my bar mitzvah or Marc’s. We were all dressed up (Mom and Dad of course looking terrific) and finally we were let go for a moment.

I picked up Ronna at our room; she was wearing that long black dress she wore to her cousin’s wedding. Following the signs with arrows that read “Jonathan Grayson’s Bar Mitzvah,” we got to a room with a smorgasbord, a band, and a bar.

Ronna had recovered from her afternoon drowsies and we sat down next to Wendy and Jeff, taking delight in their antics; Wendy still has tremendous enthusiasm and Jeffrey is a doll.

Marc and his friends were nearby, Steven getting a bit drunk (he took three entrees at every meal, too, and of course he’s the skinniest person there). Jonny had his four roommates, his friends Michael Fortunato, Michael Kennedy, Rocco and Tony. (I guess he doesn’t have Jewish friends, which is really fine.)

Ronna and I chatted with Rhonda and Ronald, who are really all right if a bit JAP-y, and Marty and Linda Katz’s son Jerry, who’s very friendly.

We took some more photographs – one family Forsyte Saga-type photograph with the five of us, the three grandparents, Marty and Arlyne and their kids, and Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney. They took a photo of me and Ronna dancing (or rather, appearing as though we were) and Ronna told me about the photo shot of her and Ivan dancing at his bar mitzvah.

I’m glad I could share this family event with Ronna; it makes me feel that she has been a part of a lot of my life. Although Ronna said no one there could compare with Dad when it came to dancing, I danced to rock music with Bonnie, and of course there was a hora, and so much good food.

Irv Cohen made numerous toasts and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Outside our ballroom, the Class of ’74 of Canarsie High, at the hotel on their senior trip, was having taking their picture taken.

We all went into the dining room for another indescribable meal. I thought I would burst after the reception, but I managed to cram plenty more into my mouth.

The whole atmosphere was jovial and cordial. After dinner, we walked off the meal with Doris and Arnold, who were so nice to both Ronna and me. Arlyne asked us if we were going to the nightclub show, and when we said no, she looked back at us knowingly.

Upstairs after 10 PM, we got out of our fancy outfits and sat around in our underwear, watching TV. We made love, and it was subtle and pleasing, with both of us having leisurely, drawn-out orgasms. I fell asleep in Ronna’s bed, lying next to her, and I slept well.

In the middle of the night, I heard her get up and I mumbled, “Wuzzat?” She got her period and had to get a tampon. After we awoke this morning, I went down to breakfast while Ronna relaxed.

Although Dad was in the dining room – he said he slept very little – the place was sparsely populated at that early hour. After breakfast, I filled up the car with gas, and Ronna and I decided to leave before lunch.

While Ronna went with Marc, Rita and Bonnie for a late breakfast in the children’s dining room, I checked out; later we brought down our own luggage. Mom said she was pleased I enjoyed myself when I wished her a happy 43rd birthday and kissed her; we said goodbye to my parents, grandparents and everyone.

On the drive back to the city, although a mountain fog slowed us down, we made good time on the Quickway and I felt no tension at all.

We stopped for lunch at The Bagel on West 4th Street in the Village. Ever since Scott took me there, I’ve become a fan of that place, which seats only about 20 or so diners, half at a low counter; it has the best burgers with the sweetest onion slices.

And then we drove back into Brooklyn and I dropped off Ronna and her luggage in Canarsie.

Tuesday, March 5, 1974

I’ve just come back from a session with Mrs. Ehrlich. When I arrived there, her voice came over the intercom even before I rang the bell. Upstairs, we laughed about it. “Everybody’s secret fear is that their therapist can read their mind,” she said.

I told her that on the drive to her office, I didn’t play the car radio as I used to; instead, I felt comfortable with the ebb and flow of my thoughts and didn’t need outside relief from myself.

Things, I told Mrs. Ehrlich, are going well, and I feel as though I am growing. I told her of my working things out at Richmond and Brooklyn with Fuchs, Ebel and Baumbach.

And last night, when I walked into Prof. Cooley’s office, he said, “Mr. Grayson, you were the star of these papers” and told me I have an extraordinarily keen eye for literary detail; he gave me Honors and a tremendous ego-boost. For once, I feel I actually am doing what I want to do.

Today I began compiling fifty texts for my comprehensive exam, and I’m not much worried about it. While doing the list, I asked Mom for some titles of poems by Poe, and she rattled off a few.

Then she recited from memory a poem that went:
Her voice is like the voice of spring
It is to me like many a thing
That sounds but is not really heard.
Her eyes are green celestial ports
That look in mine with lurid gleam
That dream and tell of heart within
That’s kind and sweet and cool
Her hair’s a fiery reddish-gold
As soft as silk-woven strands of old
Her Grecian body’s fine to see
Like Psyche’s person is her own
For me this angel God created
For me, for me alone.

To my surprise, Mom said this was not written by Poe but by a boy who loved her. She met him at a dance. His name was Jackie Cohen, but they called him Quinn. He went to a private school in Manhattan and was very brilliant.

Quinn loved Mom and introduced her to Poe and read Ethan Frome to her and gave Mom her love for Billie Holliday. Eventually, he became an alcoholic and died in California of an overdose of drugs.

I never saw that part of Mom before today. Mrs. Ehrlich said I never wanted to. But it’s true: it’s only lately that I’ve come to see members of my family as people – like admiring Dad’s social graces or being responsive to Marc’s stoned philosophy – instead of seeing them as Oedipal monsters or rival siblings.

And the weekend in the country showed that they look upon me as a man, too; witness Mom’s suggestion that Ronna and I room together.

With Ronna, I’m getting closer even as I explore new people. We’re all but sleeping together (we are sleeping together, come to think of it – just not up to the actual insertion of my penis into her vagina), and knowing that I’m free to leave her without guilt brings me the freedom of choice that makes me admire Ronna all the more.

My liking for Ronna is boundless; we’ve experimented with each other, trying honesty, and it works.

What everything comes down to is that I’ve come to trust my feelings. I can take pleasure in hotel food without worrying about getting an upset stomach. I can feel sexually attracted to men without guilt.

I can do things without planning them first and even take satisfaction from life’s spontaneity. And I can feel anxious when it’s appropriate, like driving during the bad fog in the country on Sunday.

Mrs. Ehrlich said that I was trying to please her by listing my progress, and while I agreed that was part of it, I still feel like I’m growing.

“And if you are showing off,” Mrs. Ehrlich said, “is that wrong?”

“No,” I said, thinking of the boasting that went on in Beowulf and Middle Ages epics. Maybe people then were closer to what human beings really are than are we in the twentieth century.

I received a letter from Allan Cooper from Tampa; he will be arriving in New York by train on the 16th. This time I hope to see more of Allan; even if we don’t have much in common anymore, we share the past – which now seems such an innocent time.

It’s true that you do remember mostly the good times, though those days when I was a soph and a junior can’t have been as good as I remember them, and deep down, I know I’m more complete and happier now.

Allan has decided that Math is not for him (“too many meaningless details – I hate them”) and wants to study Urban Planning after he graduates USF in June.

Gary told me he had another accident, getting badly shocked when he plugged in his electric shaver on Saturday. Poor Gary is accident prone; I don’t think that could happen to anyone else.

Scott called from his office today; he’s all moved in to the apartment on West 54th Street although he broke a bannister moving in his Castro. He’s hungry for company, and I’ll visit him as soon as I get a chance to go to midtown.

Somehow I feel that if Scott makes it on his own, I can too.

Thursday, March 7, 1974

Earlier this afternoon it was warm enough to lie on the porch, feeling the sun hit my face and clothing. It seems so long since I could do that, but it’s good to feel warmth again. A slight cool breeze was just short of paradise.

Yesterday I went to Richmond for another lecture by Fuchs on The Deer Park. We had a good talk after class; although he’s very close-minded, Fuchs doesn’t appear to be a man capable of cruelty.

Back home, I watched Nixon’s press conference as he squirmed before the reporters. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and other ex-aides were indicted last week, and it looks as though the House impeachment inquiry is getting into gear.

After dinner, I drove over to BC, first to return books to the library, and second, to see Ronna. She was reviewing a preview of Odets’ Awake and Sing, and so I went back to the library to do some research, going through PMLA Indexes until I was half-blind.

Prof. Ebel sent me an article in the mail, writing that it might be of use to me in my research. How very thoughtful of him.

In LaGuardia, I spoke with Mike. God knows why he puts in such late hours as Student Government president, although Mikey says Mike can’t delegate responsibility.

Then I sat down in the basement next to Joy, who was trying to decide whether she and Costas should go to Jamaica or the Bahamas for Easter.

Joy is in for a rude awakening if she thinks it’s going to last with Costas; Ronna said Rose told her that Joy and Costas are already fighting a lot.

I met Trey, who’s just moved into Melvin’s house. He kept complaining that he was being cheated, as he pays more than the others in the house, and he fretted about being a freshman although he’s already 20.

Trey said he should be a senior but didn’t want to go to college right away and so worked at various jobs. I liked him, but he seemed rather immature for a person who’s been on his own for so long.

Ronna came down, relieved that the play was good – she sat with Mason and Libby – so she wouldn’t have to pan it. While she was writing her review, I hung around the office.

Sid brought out a very strong joint, and about seven of us got stoned. Sid and I got to talking about LaGuardia, and he said as a freshman, he was in awe of the group around Leon. “Wow,” Sid said, “I could write a novel about this place.”

I told him I was going to.

“I’ll believe it when I see the completed manuscript,” Sid said. And I suppose he’s right – but maybe I can do it if I get into the MFA program.

Sean, who’s been much friendlier to me, called Spring and asked her to get me tickets for the show Mr. Sarney’s putting on at Midwood that she and Vito’s friend Jason are in.

I miss Spring, not having seen her since the Kingsman party at Christmas. Other people I miss are Teresa and Slade.

Ronna finally finished her review. I know that she’s not as comfortable with the Kingsman crowd this year, feeling a little out of it. As we left, Phyllis told me she’d been accepted at eight law schools and the Columbia School of Journalism; I don’t think I believe her.

Ronna told me that Felicia and Susan had a terrible fight. Just yesterday she had mentioned how they’re so close and she feels like an outsider, but when there’s trouble between them, they both always run to her.

Friday, March 8, 1974

I lay awake most of the night, bubbling with ideas. Reflecting upon my life, I began to form in my mind the novel which has been writing itself for years.

I would like to attempt to tell my story – from the anxiety attacks in high school, the breakdown at home, my struggles with sexual feelings, my meeting with the LaGuardia crowd in college, the story of Shelli, my therapists, and Ronna.

But I want to tell it all with complete honesty, a searingly painful liberating honesty. In a sense, it will be therapeutic, like Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, freeing me from the shackles of past guilt.

The tentative first paragraph is: “It was a long, searing New York summer, the summer of the moon landing and Chappaquiddick and Sharon Tate’s murder. I was eighteen and just recovering from a nervous breakdown.”

I think I have some things to say – about honesty, bisexuality, mental illness, and just what it’s been like to be Richard Arnold Grayson. So excited about this planned project was I that sleep seemed only a distraction.

The evening before was pleasant and a bit absurd. I parked in front of Avis’s building and walked in the warm evening to SUBO. The members of the Executive Committee of the Alumni Association were finishing dinner when I arrived.

Richard Pontone came in, saying he’d just joined two hours ago, and Elaine Taibi asked him to found a Young Alumni Affiliate. Pontone is searching for a job, and he had his résumé with him.

I talked with Jerry Borenstein, who was a star football player in the 50s. He told me that he started the Sam Castan Award in journalism; Ronna’s applying for it this year.

Hilary Gold joined us at our table, on Pontone’s condition that he not again tell us the story of his childhood school being destroyed in the London blitz, and then Maddy arrived after her class.

Maddy said that Elaine wants her, me and Karen to write a letter that will go in this year’s mailing to the senior class, telling them how great the Alumni Association is and why they should all join, etc.

The meeting was uneventful, with various reports being given. Afterwards, having said good night to the others, I was walking past the Hillel Building where a Purim party was in progress.

I said hello to Ari and Bruce Balter, and then met Irene, wearing a head covering. Another guy addressed her as Mrs. Kravitz, and I congratulated Irene on her marriage. She told me matter-of-factly that she was married on Saturday to Shmuley Kravitz, the president of the Minyan Club.

Irene asked me to drive her to her new house, and I agreed although I felt uncomfortable being alone with an Orthodox married woman, especially when she joked, “You know, I still want to have that affair with you.”

It sounded so ridiculous, and she didn’t seem to know why she got married in the first place. I remembered Ronna telling me months ago that she’d overheard her talking to herself at the bus stop: “Irene, what are you doing, twenty years old and still a virgin?”

Very odd. But the world is a weird place these days. Everyone’s talking about the latest fad, called “streaking”: male college students running around the campus wearing nothing but shoes. Ronna said the first streaker appeared on the BC quadrangle Monday.

Today I went to the Richmond College Assembly meeting, but as there was no quorum, President Touster had to settle for an informal discussion of various subjects.

There’s a debate coming up on whether to institute ABCDF grades instead of Pass-Fail-Honors, and sentiment, among both faculty and students, seems equally divided.

I went downstairs and dropped in at the Student Government office and bullshitted with Andrea and Freema for a while, finally coming home in a cool afternoon rain.