A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1974


Wednesday, May 22, 1974

A nice day, all things considered, and a pleasant surprise made it even nicer.

Last evening I attended Prof. Bogen’s next-to-class class; next Tuesday is the final, and of course I have the four short papers to do then.

But seeing as how I turned out the Mailer paper in record time, I don’t really feel pressured. And a week from tonight I’ll be through for the school year!

Today was oppressively hot and humid. I awoke early and went to the library to get some books out for today’s final. I also bought some more weights; I’ve been lifting them erratically, but I’m up to 80 pounds already.

Late this morning I was lying in backyard studying when Mom came out and handed me the mail. “There’s a letter from Phi Beta Kappa,” she said.

Curious, I tore it open and read: “It gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been elected to membership in the Phi Beta Kappa Society by the Brooklyn College Chapter. . .” It was signed, “Ethyle R. Wolfe, Executive Secretary.”

I was really stunned, too surprised even to be happy. Mom ran in the house to call Dad; it’s one honor my parents understand, and even Jonny was impressed. But I didn’t understand – and still don’t – why I didn’t make it last year. Was it a foul-up or what?

Anyway, soon I felt very pleased, and I’ll register next Wednesday and attend the installation at the BC graduation. I remember going to the Phi Beta Kappa installation three years ago when Kieran became a member.

When I relaxed a little, I looked through the rest of my mail. Clarissa sent me the minutes of the Chancellor’s Committee; it apparently ended just after I left. The next meeting is on June 7, and maybe I’ll have more confidence then.

The other letter I got was from the Freer Gallery. They have a publication available on Whistler’s Peacock Room; I’d written asking if there was something like that which could help me write my short story.

I spent the rest of the day rereading Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King and Herzog; his energy and characters are truly remarkable. Reading good fiction often puts me in a writing mood, and I felt that way today.

This story, “The Peacock Room,” has been swimming in my head for weeks. I feel as though I’m getting inside my heroine, Leslie Kiviak, wife of the son of a garment industry millionaire, a lawyer at the SEC, and lover of a bisexual Washington theater manager.

But I have done no writing yet, just thinking; hopefully, I’ll begin the story next week.

At Richmond, I took Fuchs’s final, which was bullshit; all during the test, I could see he was reading my comprehensive exam. If he fails me, I won’t be shocked; Fuchs’s name should be spelled with a K.

Tonight when I called Ronna to tell her about Phi Beta Kappa, I learned she was at the theater with her sister; their father had gotten them tickets for Candide. Yesterday she had her Art final and she has finals tomorrow and Friday.

I called Avis, whom I hadn’t seen in weeks. She hasn’t heard from Helmut since that last letter weeks ago, and Avis has her flight booked for four weeks from now.

She’s getting nervous, as she doesn’t even have Helmut’s address in Bremen; I don’t think this whole thing is going to pan out. Avis is busy with finals and papers although she spent today at Alan Karpoff’s house. We gossiped a bit about various people.

Scott wants to go out West this summer; Sheila doesn’t have the money to go and doesn’t want to borrow from Scott, so she may work all summer and meet him at law school in September.

Avis’s sister has moved into a house on West End Avenue, where she’s subletting a room until the fall. Teresa has decided to give up on New York, and so she’ll be driving out to San Francisco in June, to live with friends and try to start a plant store. Beverly is working at the Graduate Center until July when she plans to travel.

Such hustle and bustle!

Saturday, May 25, 1974

A quiet weekend afternoon. Last evening I went over to Ronna’s house, and it was so good to see her after a week’s separation. I guess, though, that these more infrequent dates are best for our relationship.

Almost everything about last night went smoothly, but now that I think about it, there were incidents that could have led to disaster under other circumstances. The thunderstorm outside delayed our movie-going, and we decided to wait for the late show. The dog vomited, which was unpleasant, but there was no trauma.

I have the feeling that Ronna’s mother thinks my seeing her daughter is causing Ronna pain. Of course she’s just looking out for her daughter’s welfare, but I think Mrs. C has stopped viewing me as an ideal son-in-law – which, if unflattering, is a good thing.

Ronna and I drove to my house, and after talking with my parents (Ronna says my mother is “couth” about her visits and says I should treat Mom better), we went upstairs to my room and petted.

Ronna and I were so glad to be with one another again that our arms and lips seemed to be working by themselves. It was a hungry kind of love, but a secure hugging kind of love, too.

We explored the familiar but still pleasing terrain of each other’s bodies. Ronna actually enjoys holding my penis now, which is a long way from where we started a year and a half ago. (I think back then even I was afraid to hold my own penis – that’s a joke, son.)

She’s a very beautiful and loving girl and I like to hold her and have her near me; that may not be love, but it feels pretty nice. We sort of flipped the evening around by making love first and then going out, to Georgetown, for the 10:30 PM showing of The Great Gatsby.

Ronna and I sat down just behind Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, Lennie’s parents, and settled back for two and a half hours of so-so cinema. The movie was pretty, but it lost a lot of the essence of Fitzgerald’s book – although I did enjoy Sam Waterston’s performance as Nick.

It was 1 AM when we left the theater and I took Ronna home, walking her to the door. (For some reason, I remember Shelli once taunted me by saying, “At least Jerry is a gentleman and walks me to the door!”) It was nice kissing her goodnight.

I know my relationship with Ronna is secure because of the kind of friend she is. It made me feel good to read her old boyfriend Henry’s graduation card to her: “You deserve the best, sprout!”

At home, I didn’t feel like going directly to bed, so I stayed up and read a bit. Late this morning I awoke from a delightful dream in which I was lonely and had gone to Rockaway, where I saw Davey, who was riding a bike.

In the dream, Davey said we’d have to go back to his house to repair it, and I got on another bike. On Davey’s block I saw Mark, Elspeth, Bill (who had flown in from L.A.), Carole, Avis and Nancy: it was a surprise party for me.

I woke up feeling loved. And I felt good when I received a letter from Elihu. For the first time I had written him a letter full of honest feelings; previously, we’d just been writing chatty, breezy stuff, but I wanted to deepen our friendship (of three years’ standing, even if we did sit next to each other in our high school History of Latin America class six years ago).

Amazingly, Elihu responded in kind. I had written him about my sensitivity about my own writing and mentioned an incident in which I’d told him to “fuck off” after he criticized the platform statement I wrote for one of the student government elections.

I thought this was the tensest moment in our relationship, but Elihu didn’t even remember the incident. Elihu said, “You’ll be a good writer because you are good at describing people’s feelings. Don’t question your talent, but it will take discipline, too.”

Elihu sounded apologetic for being serious, then mentioned that this past year, in his consciousness-raising group, he’s been forced to do a lot of thinking and “realize within myself thoughts I had only conceived subconsciously before.” I never liked Elihu as much as I do now.

Monday, May 27, 1974

The Memorial Day weekend is ending. I’ve just been lying in my darkened room, staring out into the darkening sky.

It was cool today; this morning I woke up with a parched throat and a nasal drip, and I realized that the steam was on. The skies were overcast, and it was chilly most of the day.

I spoke to Ronna this morning, but we decided that I had too much work to do to see her today: it would have been on my mind all day and I wouldn’t have enjoyed being with her.

Ronna had a very nice time on Saturday night. She and Rose and two of Rose’s girlfriends went to this club in Manhattan to hear some new comedy acts. They all got drunk except Ronna, who merely got gas after drinking three ginger ales. And Ronna said that coming home on the subway at 3 AM was no pleasure: an old man exposed himself, but she didn’t look.

Yesterday Ronna took Billy and Robbie to a children’s movie, and today she was going shopping with Susan.

My day was pretty boring, but I finally got Bogen’s papers out of the way – it took me hours to do it. I’m amazed at the dreck that I actually committed to writing, but I just wanted to get the whole thing over with. I’m truly embarrassed to hand these papers in, but I will.

I have to write one more ridiculous paper to hand in to Cooley Wednesday night, and then I have to take Bogen’s final, and poof! I’ll be through for this term.

Looking for a job will almost be a relief. I know I have to find some kind of employment, not only for my own self-respect and satisfaction, but because I want to take some of the pressure off Dad.

He never speaks of it, but I know that business is worse than it’s ever been and he’s struggling to cope with the rising costs of everything. I feel too guilty to even ask him for the check for my therapy.

Maybe I should talk to Mrs. Ehrlich about cutting back our sessions to once every two weeks until I can make enough money to pay for the therapy myself. I’ll bet she’ll say I’m trying to avoid facing my problems, but this is a serious problem.

We’ve lived above our means for so many years, and Dad has spoiled us so much that it’s hard to consciously cut back on our expenses. I keep forgetting Mom’s admonitions to shut off the lights and TV when I leave a room; the Con Edison bills have been astronomical.

And it’s not only us, it’s the whole American economy: business is sluggish, inflation goes unchecked, jobs are scarce. I wonder sometimes where we’re heading and it scares me.

After finishing my work early this evening, I went to Carvel and bought a “Happy 25th Anniversary” ice cream cake for my parents. I’ll get it out later, when Dad and Jonny return from the movies.

A lot of people get married on this holiday weekend. Ronna’s parents would have been married 24 years today if they hadn’t gotten divorced; Cousin Robin and Joel were married six years ago, although their divorce will become final soon.

And Shelli and Jerry have been married for two years now. I remember how proud I was to have weathered the weekend of their wedding without any trauma.

Wednesday, May 29, 1974

Tonight is the last class of the spring term. Yet I’m not ecstatic, the way I thought I might be. I guess part of that is because I don’t know where I’m heading.

Last night’s final was a breeze; if I didn’t get 100%, I’d be very disappointed. I had to stay till the very end because Prof. Bogen asked me to collect the teacher evaluation forms. When I gave them to her, I told her to have a good summer and she wished me the same.

I called Gary, who spent the holiday weekend at his friend Marty’s luxurious Philadelphia apartment. He had a nice time, going to museums and the zoo and the University of Pennsylvania, whose campus he said was gorgeous. On Monday night Gary stayed over at his sister’s house, which is halfway between New York and Philly.

When I spoke to Ronna, she was a bit upset because her sister pulled some shit about wanting to leave home and so the whole house was in an uproar all day. Sue felt that they didn’t want her, I guess.

Anyway, it was all resolved when their mother said she’d give Sue her room. So now Ronna has her bedroom all to herself.

I went to see Dr. Hersh this morning and found out I had seventeen (!) cavities; he filled several today, making “major excavations.”

From the dentist, I hurried over to BC and arrived just before the Phi Beta Kappa meeting got underway. Susan sat next to me; Phyllis passed us and didn’t say a word.

I also saw Stacy at the meeting, and we just said hello; it’s been months since I’ve seen her and somehow I expected us to be friendlier. But after all, we had a fairly rocky relationship.

Later in the day, I saw Stacy walking arm in arm with some guy, the way she always used to. Maybe I thought that she’d changed, but I guess she’s still the same old Stacy: a puzzle.

Phi Beta Kappa wants $25 for the privilege of membership, and you have to kick in even more money if you want the key and its many variations.

I had lunch in Campus Corner with Susan and Felicia. We were discussing Phyllis and Timmy and how psychotic they are, and now that neither of them talks to me anyway, I decided it was okay to tell Susan and Felicia the story of Phyllis’s phone call.

Walking out of the restaurant, I ran into Morty and Lee and I followed them to Melvin’s (and Lee’s) apartment, which was in its usual state of chaos. We sat around for a while, reading the Voice; I haven’t just goofed off with anyone like that in a long time.

As I left, Leroy was about to enter, no doubt to screw the blank-faced white girl he had in tow. I stopped in LaGuardia to go to the bathroom – it’s cleaner than the one in Melvin’s place – and found Vito, Jason and Alex there.

Vito said he had to go to Melvin’s house, too, to retrieve a jacket Joey left there, and he suggested I drive Jason home since he lives near me. I agreed, finding Jason pleasant company; he’s looking for a job this summer, too.

On the way to my car, Jason and I ran into Mason, who greeted me effusively. Mason was on his way to drop his summer session courses, as he’s decided he wants to go back to camp this year.

He mentioned that Shelli made a film for a class at this bar on Fire Island, which Mason said was “kind of a disgusting environment.” Skip is working there as a waiter or something. Shelli’s playing Leon and had Mason, Skip and Jerry take parts in her movie.

Mason said Jerry got into a Writing program at Boston University; I can’t understand how that illiterate got in, but maybe I’m a bit prejudiced and jealous. Jerry’s not getting a degree from Northeastern, it seems.

Somehow over the years, I seem to have become the villain vis-á-vis Shelli and Jerry: they’re the struggling nonconformist couple and I’m supposedly an immature, vindictive establishment sellout.

For a person who tries so hard to be liked, I sure have a lot of people mad at me: Jerry and Shelli, Stacy, Timmy and Phyllis.

Scott called, saying he too made Phi Beta Kappa a year after graduation, but he couldn’t attend today’s meeting or the initiation due to work.

Thursday, May 30, 1974

Coming home last night at dusk, I was suffused with a pale blue bittersweet kind of emotion. My last class at Richmond College was over, and I felt ecstatic and nostalgic at the same time.

I met Prof. Fuchs on the sixth floor hallway and asked him if he finished grading my comprehensive exam yet.

Dumbfounded, I heard him say, “Yes, Cooley and I both agreed that you passed the exam ‘with distinction.’” That’s a term that will say how my master’s degree will be given, “with distinction.”

And to make things even better, Fuchs said that he was giving me Honors in the Mailer and Bellow course. He invited me into his paper-cluttered office for a talk: he said I was very brilliant, well-read, and thought I’d make a good teacher. Heavy praise indeed from the man I assumed to be my enemy.

We chatted about school and my future and other things, and he went up to a last-day-of-school party and I went to class.

Prof. Cooley had brought in wine, cheese, crackers and apples, and the class had a good discussion on Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. While pouring drinks for students, Cooley said, “You look like a Scotch man, Mr. Grayson.”

He said that it’s too bad all classes in the semester can’t be as relaxed as the last one and how you can enjoy literature so much better when there’s no pressure on to understand the book or like it or hunt for symbols.

After a very pleasant hour and a half, the clock on Borough Hall tolled 8 PM and the class was over. Cooley told me about my comprehensive exam, concluding with, “You’ve made a big hit.” I felt so good.

And at the same time, I realized how attached I’ve become to Richmond College. Despite the fact that I still have to complete my thesis and take my language exam, I won’t be going to the college regularly anymore.

I’m going to miss the drive up bucolic Bay Street, the uphill walk from the parking lot past the St. George Theater, the elevators with wall-to-wall people, and the people at Richmond, both students and teachers.

This year at Richmond was a positive experience; I proved that my success at Brooklyn College was not just a fluke, that I can make it on my own elsewhere; it’s given me confidence.

During the night I had many dreams: Prof. Cooley telling me that “Nothing’s too good for you: the sky’s the limit”; Dad, furious at me, yet making the Freudian slip, “I cannot live without you in this house!”; my first dream about actually having sex with a guy: he was faceless, but I had the feeling he was my double.

Today I met Tracy at the post office. She lives around here now and will be getting married on Sunday, the same day Rhonda is getting married and so is Rita’s sister, to Al Ellman. So many marriages: next month, I hear, Ira is getting married, and so are Harvey and Linda.

It was a relief to later run into Davey, a man who says, “I can’t see myself getting into a long-term relationship with a girl. I’m just trying to get laid once in a while.”

Davey is really a remarkable person. He’s so into his running that he says he gets very depressed when he hurts himself and can’t run. He explained his theory, borrowed from some psychologist, of “positive addiction.”

Davey said he used to recommend running as an antidote to everyone’s problems, but now he understands, and I agreed, that what works for him will not necessarily work for everyone.

I asked him what he thinks about when he’s running. Davey said sometimes he has fantasies, but mostly he just thinks about “how good I’m going to feel when I’m finished running.”

He’s also into his Elementary Ed courses and seems to have a feeling for teaching Phys Ed to kids. The only discordant note I find about Davey is his inability to accept weakness.

Late this afternoon, I came home to take in the sun, which was shining for the first time in days.