A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1974


Thursday, August 1, 1974

This morning I awoke with a very stiff neck, so I tried to sleep though all the commotion of everyone else in the house getting off to the airport. I finally got out of bed after 11 AM; a few hours earlier, Mom and Dad had come into my room, and only fuzzily did I remember saying goodbye to them.

So I’m alone now, more alone than I’ve been in a long while.

Yesterday afternoon I visited Grandma Sylvia in the hospital. When I got there, her room was empty and they said she was in therapy. I waited for a while, watching the nurses and patients – one shirtless blond teenaged boy in a wheelchair and a leg cast had a particularly nice body – until they wheeled Grandma Sylvia into her room.

She didn’t want to go into bed right away, so we went into the solarium and the nurse brought us ginger ales. Grandma Sylvia looks much better. She said her brother, Uncle Bernard, and Aunt Mildred were with her in therapy, where they had her walking with crutches. She’s unsteady right now, but the chances are good that she’ll someday be able to walk better.

Dad arrived, and I could stay only a little while longer, as my meter was expiring. Funny how when I meet Dad in a social setting, there’s no parent-child hangups and resentment between us; we’re just two adults.

It’s not easy to be alone, but I’ve come to realize life will never be easy. I told Mrs. Ehrlich that all the people in Fear of Flying were so messed up after years of therapy, and she said, “Do you think you’re not going to struggle with pain and hurt and hard times after therapy is finished?”

It’s not a cure-all; I have to lower my expectations because there is no one answer, nor really any combination of answers. It’s like the story of the man who struggles for many years to get to a wise old guru in Tibet. When he arrives, he asks the guru, “What’s life all about?”

The guru says, “Life is a fountain.”

The man, incredulous, says, “Life is a fountain?”

And the guru looks at him and says, “You mean life isn’t a fountain?”

Mrs. Ehrlich laughed when I told her that story. I said I’d give her an autographed copy of my first novel; she smiled and said she’d gladly accept it.

Today I went to pick up Vito so he could follow doctor’s orders and get some therapeutic swimming done at our pool. He still uses the cane, but he’s walking much better now: he goes out of the apartment although sitting is still very difficult for him.

He swam well although he said that it hurt him somewhat. I read him my play and some stories, and he liked my writing, and he told me more about his former lover, Mitchell Cohen.

Mitchell’s family seemed to like Vito very much. They took him out to eat and said how good-looking he was; even the grandmother approved of their relationship. Mitchell was 19, very vain about his looks, “too much in the closet,” and wanted a career in the theater.

He was very close to his family, so much so that when he and Vito drove his mother to the airport for a trip to Florida, Mitchell started crying on the Belt Parkway going home, and when Vito asked what was wrong, Mitchell wailed, “I miss her already!”

(Of course, Vito thinks his mother can do no wrong, either. Is that a homosexual trait?)

Vito said they usually had sex in the family’s finished basement, and that when it got late, his mother would say over the intercom: “Mitchell, I think it’s time for Vito to go home.”

“But the weird thing is, it was almost always after he had come but I hadn’t yet,” Vito said. “Like all they cared about was his satisfaction.” I said I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

Anyway, Mitchell dropped out of school, and Vito isn’t particularly interested in seeing him again.

I told Vito that Leroy and Elayne are now having an affair, and we both wondered what is it that makes Leroy so attractive to all these white Jewish girls? It escapes me.

Vito said Joey is visiting Spezz in Maine, and that while Joey was away, Nancy was supposed to register for him, but she forgot.

Vito wanted to go home at 5 PM but thanked me for the use of the pool. I said, quite honestly, that it was a pleasure to have him there. He told me to drop by tomorrow night, when he and Jason will be watching Streetcar on TV.

Saturday, August 3, 1974

At the end of Harold and Maude, which I saw tonight for the third time at Georgetown, Cat Stevens sings that you should sing out when if want to sing out, that you should be free if you want to be free, because there are a million things you can do.

I really find myself agreeing with the film’s plunge-headlong-into-life philosophy. Even if you get hurt, at least “you’ll have something to talk about in the locker room.”

It’s Saturday evening and I’m home alone with a big smile on my face. Ronna called a little while ago, and when I recognized her voice, I broke out into an ear-to-ear grin which hasn’t diminished.

She was calling from a phone booth in Rockport. Apart from sunburn and blisters, she’s fine; she’s been getting my letters addressed to general delivery, and she and Susan have been doing a lot of sight-seeing and they’re having a good time.

Ronna said she missed me and I told her I missed her. “I had planned to call you on Tuesday,” she said, “but I couldn’t hold out.” They’re leaving Rockport to spend a few days in Salem and then going on to Boston and should be home a week from Monday.

As brief as it was, I treasured her call.

Last evening I drove out to the beach and had dinner with Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, with whom I played a dozen rounds of kaluki afterwards.

After playing cards, even though it was dark and rainy, I wanted to go out on the terrace, to finish the cup of tea Grandma Ethel gave me, and to be alone and quiet and think about my loneliness.

I miss Ronna the most of anyone. I took out the postcard I got yesterday, in which she told me about Gloucester and her visit to the home of Fitz Hugh Lane, a nineteenth-century painter she admires.

All the way home, I thought about Ronna; I thought I saw Ivan and Vicky next to me in his van. I would have honked, but I wasn’t certain it was them, and if it was, I was positive they just wanted to be alone, the way I would be if I had been with Ronna.

“Dummy!” I said to myself. “What’s this nonsense? I thought you believed in being a person, an entity unto yourself! You even endorsed Vicky’s idea about married people living separate lives in different cities! And just because you haven’t seen Ronna in five days, you’re turning into a marshmallow?”

What could I answer myself? That it’s just neurotic clinginess, a lesser form of the panic I felt when I was going with Shelli and she went off to march on Washington for one day? That it’s just because my alone-ness is heightened with my family and my therapist away?

Or that I enjoy the Romantic posture of longing for my true love? All those things pay a part, but the fact of the matter is that while I do miss Ronna intensely, I’m not going bananas over it.

Even with her call tonight, the feeling of pain is real, but I can appreciate loneliness. That’s why I wanted to be alone last night on Grandma Ethel’s terrace. It’s not enjoying self-pity but a desire to experience my feelings and let them go through me.

It’s sort of the way I felt during the breakup period with Shelli; after I’d gone through panic and craziness, I enjoyed being alone, sensing the me in me. Does that make any sense?

I had promised Allan that I’d help him move, so I knew I had to get up early. Somehow that made my sleep and my dreams all the more precious. One of the greatest feelings in the world is getting up, looking at the clock, and realizing you can sleep another hour.

I awoke at 6:50 AM, went back to sleep and had a long and delightful dream in which Ronna appeared suddenly and unexpectedly – and when I woke again, it was only 7 AM.

It’s good for the soul to wake up early once in a while. Outside, it was gloomy, but I enjoyed it, for somehow it seemed the right kind of weather for driving to Manhattan early on a Saturday morning.

And it was pleasant being alone in the house, walking around naked, taking a shower without closing the bathroom door. I put on the radio and listened to Spanish music. It was so gratifying to know that I’m alone and responsible for myself; adulthood has more concrete joys than childhood any day.

As early as I arrived at Fat Ronnie’s house, Mikey was already there; Bobby had to work today so he couldn’t come.

Fat Ronnie’s house amazes me: it’s the most disorganized place I’ve ever seen, a complete mess – Mom would pass out if she saw it – yet somehow it fits. I like Ronnie’s mother very much; she’s so pleasant even if she’s the worst housekeeper I know.

We loaded up Allan’s car and mine with all his stuff: clothes, household supplies, records, stereo, everything. Fat Ronnie’s brother will now get his room back; from what I saw of the room and what I’ve heard, Evan is a talented musician, a violinist, and he really likes ducks.

Mikey drove with me. About an hour later, we met Allan on West 113th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive. He’s only going to live there a month, and then move to an apartment a few blocks away that he’s leased for a year.

The neighborhood doesn’t seem that bad, and putting things away was easy since the apartment was on the first floor. Once we were done, we went to eat at The West End, around the corner on Broadway, and I enjoyed lunch and the conversation with Mikey and Allan.

They returned to Brooklyn in Allan’s car; Allan thanked me for helping him, but I enjoyed it. I drove over to New York Hospital, and amazingly, found a parking space very close.

When I arrived in her room, Grandma Sylvia was eating lunch, and she looked like she was really enjoying it, especially the apple pie á la mode. She appears much healthier but hates therapy and was glad she doesn’t have it on weekends.

But there wasn’t one complaint out of her today; I think Grandma Sylvia realizes that many people are a lot worse off than she is.

I heard from Evie next door that Dad said that Grandma Sylvia really appreciates my visits; except for the one visit by Robin, none of the other grandchildren have gone to the hospital. I do it because it makes Grandma feel good, and that makes me feel good.

I stopped off in Brooklyn Heights, to look in on the bookstores and other shops on Montague Street. After getting a Jamoca cone at Baskin-Robbins, I went to see Harold and Maude.

These are the kind of days that make living a joy.

Monday, August 5, 1974

Listening to the news tonight, one is certain that Richard Nixon’s days as President are numbered. Today, as he had to release very damaging tapes to Congress and the courts, the President virtually admitted that he had played a role in the Watergate cover-up.

Senators of his party are asking him to resign, and many of the Republican congressmen who voted against impeachment in the Judiciary Committee said they will vote for impeachment in the full House. So the only question remains one of how Nixon will leave office: through a curt resignation statement or a prolonged trial in the Senate that ends in conviction.

The momentum is unstoppable now; very often I’ve heard people use the cliché, “You’re living through history,” but it’s really true now.

I had insomnia last night and didn’t get to sleep until 5 AM. I suppose it’s because I’m in the middle of a change in my life now. Virtually all I’m doing is waiting for September and the start of the MFA program.

I look at the want ads in the papers every day, but if I were serious about getting a job, I would have one by now. And I’ve done almost no work on my thesis; I probably won’t finish it until the fall.

I’ve got to get my life going in some direction. Sometimes I wonder if all my therapy has changed me into a different person or if it’s just made me a more comfortable and more successful neurotic.

I got a letter from Ronna today; she wrote about her adventures in Massachusetts: swimming, hiking, sight-seeing. She said that even though she misses me, she thinks the separation is good for her, giving her time to reevaluate things.

“After looking at all the pitfalls and things that are wrong with each of us separately and both of us together,” Ronna wrote, “I am still very happy with the relationship.”

And she writes about risk-taking: “The only way to overcome a fear is to plunge into it. It’s not the physical risks but the emotional ones that are the hardest. Not commitments, just leaving yourself open to be hurt, but to be given and to give emotions.”

I needed people today, so I dropped by the Courier-Life office to say hello to Mark. He was sitting at his desk with a picture of Consuelo and the baby on it. Mark was about to check on a story about a gangland killing in a Sheepshead Bay synagogue, but it was good to see him, if only for a little while.

Three years ago was that awful dinner party at his house which ended with me and Shelli having a terrible fight. I can’t believe that I actually hit her in the back the way I did. I wonder if Shelli told Mark and Consuelo all about that night and if they think I’m a terrible person.

They haven’t acted that way, but maybe I am – or was – a terrible person. I don’t know.

After leaving the Courier-Life office, I had lunch and drove down Flatbush Avenue to the Belt Parkway and drove out to Richmond College. I really had missed that drive up Bay Street to the St. George area, the college with its elevators and posters and crowds.

I waited in the lobby for Alice, to drive her home. She was surprised and extremely grateful; otherwise, she faced a two-hour ride on the ferry, two trains and a bus or bike.

Alice finally finished typing Marty’s thesis but is now busy with her graduate class paper, due on Wednesday. A week after that, she’s leaving for Europe. She’s going to stay with her brother in Stuttgart; I gave her Avis’s address in Bremen.

Andreas came back from Geneva on Sunday, so Alice could understand my missing Ronna, even for so short a period of time. Alice said that everything’s fine with her. Renee’s again complaining, she said, about how depressed she is.

I dropped Alice off at Brooklyn College, where her bike was. I lent her my library copy of Fear of Flying and said I’ll see her before she leaves.

Ronna’s sister saw us and came over to say hello on her way to go to work in the bookstore. Sue said they’re not moving to East 99th Street after all, and unlike Ronna, Sue is mad about it.

Thursday, August 8, 1974

Tonight is a historic occasion. After many months of national furor, the Nixon years are ending. The President – soon to be the former President – came on TV at 9 PM and said he was resigning for the good of the country.

He mentioned a lack of a viable political base, but said nary a word about Watergate and the criminal activities he instigated. He still may face more trouble: possible indictments, civil suits, testimony at the cover-up trial.

While it is unseemly for a former Chief Executive to end up in jail, it seems unfair that Dean, Magruder, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Colson and others have to be imprisoned while Nixon relaxes at San Clemente.

By temperament and upbringing, I was one of those Americans who have always disliked and distrusted Nixon through his long and checkered (no pun intended) political career.

When I arrived home from kindergarten one afternoon, I saw Nixon being inaugurated for a second term as Vice President; I watched him accept the GOP Presidential nomination on TV from our Rockaway bungalow when I was 9 years old; as a McCarthy supporter and admirer of RFK, in 1968 I was terribly disappointed when he beat Humphrey by a whisker.

In 1972, I was totally discouraged by his landslide reelection. Then it was our America versus their America, and we knew whose country it was.

Oh, there were moments of hope: his ’69 inaugural when he urged us all to “lower our voices”; I remember talking to Dr. Lipton about that. I was in my neurotic don’t-leave-the-house period then, and I guess I was ready to grasp any straw.

I guess everyone was glued to his or her TV set tonight as Tricky Dick Nixon took his leave of us.

In my own life, events are also unfolding. The family arrived home from St. Maarten last evening and they’re here to stay. I wonder if I am.

Today I told Mom about the apartment on Avenue I and Nostrand and how I’d like Dad to pay for my share of the rent at Josh and Robbie’s until I get settled. Immediately after I mentioned it to Mom, I had a terrible attack of diarrhea: an upset stomach or an upset psyche?

I’m frightened of the future; things are so uncertain, and this succession of grey, hazy, stupid days doesn’t seem to help. Anyway, the rest of my family looks well: they’re tanned and rested. They brought me back a sculpture made out of nails, nuts and bolts.

At the Junction this morning, I heard a voice calling me. I looked back, and it was a woman saying, “I’m Ellen’s mother, and Avis’s.” Mrs. P asked me if I’d heard from Avis, and when I told her I had, she said bitterly, “I’m glad you do because I don’t.”

She said that Avis had written Ellen that she’d be back in late September and mentioned something about going to Switzerland first. I told her I wasn’t sure when Avis is coming back and I didn’t mention that she was living with Helmut.

Mrs. P said, “Her father wrote her a letter. You don’t know how much she’s hurt us. . . But I shouldn’t be telling you this, you’re her friend and you’ll tell her. . . Just remember, Richie, there’s always two sides.”

Just before I entered the subway, Avis’s mother told me how wonderful I looked, having lost so much weight; that struck me as a curious thing for her to say.

This afternoon, in the Brooklyn College library, I met Libby, who was taking out a load of books for a Humanities test. When I offered to help her with both carrying the books and with studying, she invited me back to the apartment for iced tea.

After I tried to help Libby with the conventions of epic poetry, we gave up studying and turned to gossip. Libby said Jerry and Shelli showed up Monday night “out of the clear blue sky,” and Melvin – who lives next door with Elayne and Leroy as his roommates – came by, “and we all had a great time.”

Jerry and Shelli hitchhiked to California and drove back rented cars until Shelli smashed one up; then they flew in from Detroit, and for the rest of the summer, they’re living with Shelli’s parents.

Everyone – Libby included – seems to think that Shelli and Jerry are an ideal married couple. I suppose it happened with time and maturity. Shelli, Libby said, told her that in the beginning they were “just playing house,” but now the bonds between them are very strong.

Libby mentioned one very odd thing, though: that Jerry’s very into homosexuality and that he and Shelli spend a lot of time going to gay bars. They’ve been in touch with the now-sequined Leon and will throw a party to celebrate his return to New York – a party I will not be invited to, for sure.

Libby and I chatted for a while, and Neil came in. I still don’t see what’s so great about Neil that it makes Vito rave about him so.

Neil’s 17-year-old brother is getting married on Sunday to his 16-year-old girlfriend, and he showed us the certificate of consent that their mother had to sign.

They’re also going to live in the apartment with Neil, Libby and Clay, but the brother’s other girlfriends will come over to sleep with him while the girl – his wife – will sleep with other guys. They’re calling it an “open marriage,” but Libby and I agreed that the idea is crazy at their age.

I got a postcard from Ronna in Salem, where she and Susan have taken a room. They’ve seen the House of the Seven Gables and other historic houses from the witch trials. The raunchy types in town are bothering them, though.

I don’t miss Ronna terribly but I do wish she’d get back home soon.