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


Sunday, September 1, 1974

I had a perfectly lovely day, but when I came home tonight, things that have been escaping my notice for weeks and months finally built up and I became depressed.

The cause of my depression: the depression that’s coming, and everyone is starting to realize it. Headlines in the Times: “56% Say We’re Heading for Depression; Meany Predicts Depression Worse than 1930’s; Joblessness Up to 8%; Price Levels Rise Again.”

I’m slowly coming to grips with the fact that it will never be as good again as we had it in the late 60s. Of course, this is going to affect everyone, but it’s already affecting us. Where Dad would give me $20 a couple of years ago, he now gives me $10.

I hate to ask him for more, and lately I’ve been consciously spending less: not eating out so much; taking the bridges to Manhattan instead of the tunnel, which costs 70¢; not going to so many movies.

I hope Dad’s business can survive, but I wouldn’t bet on it – not with so many of the customers and competitors of Art Pants being forced out. Tonight Dad said he just hoped we wouldn’t be forced to sell the house. That seems unthinkable: our house.

Since there’s nothing I can do about the economy, I’d better let things ride easy. But I have every intention of quitting school and getting a job if things get that rough. (“Aren’t I wonderful?” he said to himself sarcastically.)

And I have to give serious thought to taking a leave of absence from therapy. I love therapy and Mrs. Ehrlich, but now it may be a luxury I can’t afford. Anyway, I can discuss that at my session on Tuesday.

Now, to pleasanter thoughts: I woke up early this morning and called Ronna, waking her out of a complex dream which she later described to me. We had agreed to help Allan move into his new apartment, so I picked up Ronna at 10 AM and we drove into Manhattan.

It was good to be up and around at that hour of the morning on such a sunny, warm day. I still can’t get used to the fact that it’s September. We found Allan packing some things into his car on West 113th Street.

He couldn’t get anyone else to help, so it was just the three of us all day. It turned out to be a lot more work than I had expected, moving all his junk to his new place on West 120th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

In all, it took three trips with both cars to load up the new apartment with all his belongings. And a lot of sweat and strain. Ronna got a splinter from carrying the wood Allan’s using to make a bed, but he took it out of her hand. With all the hard work, the time went surprisingly quickly.

The new apartment is superb: in a nice building with a doorman, it has large rooms, nice views, a modern kitchenette, and a long hallway.

Allan called Elihu in Providence during the week, and Elihu said he’ll come by to look at the apartment this week to decide whether he’d like to share it. Elihu must be home by now, although I’m sure he’s been very much occupied.

When we were finally done, the three of us went down to the Village and had lunch at The Bagel and then ice cream at Mother Tucker’s. Allan wanted to look at some of the houses there – he’s such an architecture buff – but I was tired, so we drove uptown, and from there I drove my car home, Ronna and I chewing gum on the way back to Brooklyn.

We fell into bed almost immediately and made long, slow, sleepy love: how pleasant it was. I had missed Ronna’s body. Last night, in bed, I pretended that my pillow was her breasts.

Eventually we fell into a kind of half-sleep, our arms and legs intertwined as we rested from all that physical labor today. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, simply lying there and feeling Ronna next to me.

We watched TV and read to each other, and then she fixed me dinner at her house. I loved Ronna so much today, all cute and chubby in her Chicago T-shirt. When I’m with her, the whole world seems all right.

Wednesday, September 4, 1974

The curious thing about it is that I’m fairly calm. I left my house this afternoon after a fight with Mom – another of those ball-busters – and I checked into a motel, of all things. I have even surprised myself.

Here’s the story: it started because I changed shirts. Mom started yelling through the bathroom door about my wasting their money, about my living off them, etc. – the usual shit.

At first I just turned on the faucet rather loudly to drown her out, but then I walked out and shouted, “Fuck you, already!” at her. She reminded me of a witch as she snapped: “That does it! Daddy and I are not paying for your college this year!” (I am to register tomorrow.)

She said mean things. She wanted to stir me up, and at one point I lunged at her; I couldn’t help it. But I hate it when I get that way, and I decided I have to take a stand somewhere and say I’m not going to take that shit anymore.

Oh, yes, I realize my complicity in all this: how I take their money – even now I’m using Dad’s credit card to pay for the Holiday Inn – and one of the reasons I decided to leave was to think things out and come to a decision. Perhaps I’ll get a job and move out . . . finally.

So perhaps this is a positive thing, with all this coming to a head. I packed a few things and drove out to the Holiday Inn at Kennedy Airport. First I called Ronna from a phone booth. Earlier, I had spoken to her mother, who said Ronna was excited because she may have gotten a job as a production assistant at CBS.

So first I spoke to her about the job – it’s not definite yet – then I told her what had happened. (It was difficult. One of the first things I thought about after my decision to leave the house was, I don’t want to upset Ronna.)

What she said was “Frankly, I was surprised you lived that way for so long.” I discussed whether I should call Dad; I do love him very much and I don’t want him to worry.

But I won’t go back home tonight; it’s a matter of my making a statement. Tonight may be very, very difficult; I may get scared and weaken, but I don’t want to.

For the first time, I have realized that the situation at home cannot continue – and if I go home tonight, it will be a signal that I’m ready to go back to the same old nonsense.

After I hung up with Ronna, I had dinner in the coffee shop and checked into my typical motel-room motel room. I don’t know what’s coming next in my life, but I’m just going to see what I decide.

Ronna asked if I’d called Mrs. Ehrlich; I will if I get very upset later.

Last night, I was so manic that I had a terrible anxiety attack on my way to see Mrs. Ehrlich in a bad thunderstorm. Then I realized I was fearing that I would get to Atlantic Avenue and Mrs. Ehrlich would be gone, nowhere around.

When I saw her, I smiled broadly, and I said, “I’d like to hug you, I’m so glad to see you.” She said I looked like I was thriving.

We had a fantastic session: we laughed together – I made a few jokes – and I told her about the recent incidents with Mom, the pineapple thing and Sunday night with the pancakes and how she bustles around in the kitchen while Ronna and I are alone in the basement late at night.

Mrs. Ehrlich agreed with my analysis but wondered why I continue to put up with the situation. I guess tonight shows that, at least temporarily, I’ve decided not to put up with it.

We discussed my writing: I feel it drains me of my vital essences, just like with sex. I love Mrs. Ehrlich very much. I know it’s only transference, of course, but still . . . Why can’t my mother be a woman like Mrs. Ehrlich or Ronna?

I suppose I can’t change her, and I suppose I love her. As I left the house, Mom said that I’m only a “taker” – but that’s just with her.

I expect tonight will be one of the most difficult times of my life.

Thursday, September 5, 1974

It’s almost midnight and I’m at home – in my parents’ house, that is. This has been my longest day. I’ve been here only a few minutes. Dad walked in my room a moment ago and asked where I’d been.

“Around,” I said.

He accepted by answer and didn’t say anything else, but he seemed sympathetic although he didn’t put it into words . . . but Dad doesn’t put many things into words.

I feel as if I’ve been on an odyssey, exploring the debris of my life: 23 years, 3 months and a day, and what does it add up to? I don’t know.

Last night, for the first time in my life, I was somewhere and not one person on earth knew where I was (I didn’t tell Ronna because if she knew, that would put her in an awkward situation in case Dad called her to ask where I was). That’s a strange feeling.

I wanted to show my family and of course myself that I could be entirely on my own (although financially I wasn’t – but I intend to pay Dad back for the credit card bill somehow) and survive.

Ronna said, “Frankly, Grayson, I didn’t think you had it in you.”

I knew it would be easier if I was with people for a while last night, so I drove to Oceanside. Cousin Wendy was home alone, and after she found out it was me at the door, she let me into the house.

It had been the first day of school for her and Jeff, who started first grade, and the others were out getting school supplies. Wendy’s Aunt Donna, my childhood friend, called, and I spoke to her.

Donna was upset about her first day teaching in the Trenton ghetto; she described the disciplinary problems as unbearable, with the kids so disruptive that “teaching anything is beyond consideration.”

Donna said she might quit. I guess one can’t go crazy like that; I could not take an hour of it. But do we as a society just give up on these kids? I don’t know.

Wendy showed me her FCC license and her ham radio, and I was happy to be with my little cousin; she’ll be 13 next month, but I don’t think she’s having a bas mitzvah.

I drove back to the motel and locked myself in the room. I called Ronna again, and we talked for half an hour, and then I tried to sleep, but I was wide awake. The bed was too big and the pillows too soft. I felt more alone than I ever have in my life.

And yet I was pleased with myself for facing that terrible fear, that emptiness of being alone. It was only six years ago that my agoraphobia was so bad that I couldn’t start college in the fall of 1968, that I spent most of the next eight or so months in the house.

I didn’t even try to come to any conclusions regarding my life as I lay in bed. Finally, somewhere along 4 AM, I dozed off out of sheer exhaustion. I awoke at 9 AM, the sunlight filtering between the curtains.

After taking a shower, washing and drying my hair, and dressing, I went down to breakfast in the coffee shop. I sort of like eating breakfast out “on the road,” like I was on vacation.

Back upstairs, I gathered my things together and checked out. Driving home back to Brooklyn and coming back to the house, I made a U-turn without looking – very careless – and a car screeched on its brakes and swerved to avoid hitting me. Because of the noise, everyone on the block came out, including Mom.

I gave her one glance as I came in and went upstairs without a word. I will not put myself in a position where she can abuse and degrade me the way she did yesterday.

I saw a phone message from Josh, called him and said I’d be over at 5 PM; from his house, we’d go to see Prof. Kaye and register later.

At this point I don’t know if I’m going to school this term, but I figure if I register, at least I have the option of changing my mind later; this way I can go to school if I want to.

I called Ronna and we made plans to meet at Kings Plaza. I got there early and had lunch before I met her at 1:30 PM and went with her to buy a watchband. I guess I was tense, because I snapped at her, and she said if I was going to be like that, maybe I should go away.

I stalked away – the first, and, I hope, the last time I’ve ever done that with Ronna – but caught up with her a few minutes later and said, “I’m sorry.” Things were all right after that: she made her purchases, we had a drink, and I went with her to wait while she got a free breast examination.

But the line was too long, so I drove her home. Ronna’s mother told me, “Stay at our house instead of a motel tonight,” but I figured I’d come “home.” I had to leave for Josh’s, and Billy and his friends were yelling and the dog vomited, so Ronna was distressed; I hugged her very hard.

When I arrived, Josh was out walking Stinky. I found Robbie and Paul in Paul’s bedroom and joined them on the waterbed. They’re both such nice people. Josh came up and we went over to the English Department to see Prof. Kaye.

In the waiting room, we were talking with this girl who’s also in the MFA program and I figured, correctly, that she was Barbra, whom Avis told me about: the girl who was also agoraphobic but who spent six years in the house.

From the start, Josh took an instant dislike to her – he has a habit of doing that with people – and said she was a pseudo-Barbra Streisand, making remarks about her “contacts” (people, not eyewear), talking about changing her last name. I’m withholding judgment.

Prof. Kaye remembered me from when I served on the Curriculum Committee with him and inquired about Bob M and Robert. After we took care of business, Josh and I returned to his house, where he made dinner: very tough steak, chicken soup and corn.

I told Josh that 24 hours earlier, I had been alone, debating whether to commit suicide, and he said, “Why didn’t you just come over here and listen to records?” As many times as I could kill Josh, there are times when I could hug him.

The lines at the computer registration in James Hall were unbelievably long; I was supposed to register at 8 PM, but didn’t start until 9 PM and I got out after 10 PM – and then I waited for Josh.

At registration I saw Nancy and Larry and Robin (she told me Elspeth moved again) and Buddy and Vito’s friend Felix.

An odd incident: Josh and I were walking past Stacy and some people, and she hung her head down so as not to see us. It was so comical. Evidently Stacy will not acknowledge me when I’m with Josh: first at the beach, then another time, now tonight.

Anyway, I got into the Fiction Workshop, the Tutorial, and Modern American Fiction.

Friday, September 6, 1974

Mom came into my room this morning and told me that she and Dad wanted me to go to school. I told her where I had been the other night, that I needed to be alone, and she said she understood.

Tired and in pain with a sinus headache, I still managed to dress myself into a suit and tie and go over to Macy’s, where I was told that there were no jobs available.

Then I went to Brooklyn College, to the placement office: I got the name of one job referral, a position as a messenger with a Wall Street law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, and I have to be there at 11 AM on Monday.

I don’t want to get my hopes up yet, but it would sure be nice to earn some money, even if I still lived at home. At least then I wouldn’t be so dependent upon my parents and feel so obligated toward them. (Mom, in coming to my room to make up today, offered me $10, saying, “You must need money.”)

At school I met Mara and went with her back to Kings Plaza, where she bought a shirt. She’s having dinner with Eric and his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend, so Mara wanted to look good because she feels she has to compete with Eric’s roommate’s girlfriend.

Mara showed me her new glasses, and we went to six stores and found no shirts that she liked well enough to buy and so we finally just got ice cream cones. I enjoy being with Mara, and I guess I’ll be seeing more of her now that I’m again a student at BC.

When I got home, I called Ronna, who’s going to the movies with Rose tonight. She was supportive of me and disappointed because no one ever called her back about the job at CBS.

Sunday, September 8, 1974

I’m tired tonight, but I’m quite peaceful. I did a lot of writing last night, and I think the stuff I cranked out is pretty good, rather Jamesian.

Last evening the block party finally ended, thank God. Our house won a bottle of Sant’gria in a raffle. I slept well and woke up early, which can sometimes be a pleasure.

At 9 AM, I picked up Ronna – she had been sick all night with an upset stomach – and we drove off to Roosevelt Raceway for the Summersault ‘74 daylong concert that we paid $10 to get into.

As early as we got there, just twenty minutes after the gate had opened, the crowd was already tremendous. My first thoughts, and Ronna’s, upon seeing the crowds there were of Woodstock, an analogy which held up pretty well throughout the day.

Amidst thousands of others, we parked our car and made our way through the gates – guards made us discard our cans of soda because no cans or bottles were allowed inside – to get to the track.

People were sitting right on the turf, but we had neglected to bring a blanket to lie on, and anyway, the grandstand looked cooler and more comfortable, so we went up there.

It was as if summer had returned, if only for one day. The sun was beating down heavily, and I joined most of the guys around us and took off my shirt. It made me feel free and sexy and young. A kind of genial raunchiness pervaded the entire day.

Nearly everybody was young (15 to 25), white and middle-class, but all were of the group that is loosely defined as “the counterculture.” We sat in our seats and talked to a few of the people around us.

The guy in front of us lent us sections of the Sunday New York Times, and his friend Richie, a real life-of-the-party type, kept things moving. (Later Ronna and I both agreed that he reminded us of Clay, Libby’s roommate, and that he had one of the most beautiful backs we had ever seen. It’s so nice to be open with Ronna about my attractions to guy’s bodies.)

Recorded music, mostly Dylan, filled the waiting time, and helicopters kept landing near the stage (which Ronna and I could barely make out most of the day), bringing performers and equipment.

A sea of youthful humanity filled the raceway. One cop told us that over 70,000 people had showed up. The first performer was Jesse Colin Young, and then the Beach Boys came on with mostly the same stuff they had done last December – but the place shook with “good vibrations.”

I’m afraid I’m giving the impression that all this happened one thing after another, but in reality there was a lot of waiting time between acts. At points I got the queer feeling that I had spent the better portion of my life at this concert.

But the sounds of rock music and the sweet mixture of grass and sweat filled the air. It was all very sensual: I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many bare chests at one time.

With the great California music of Joni Mitchell and the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the casual atmosphere and half-naked young bodies of both sexes and lots of drug use – I saw one girl freaking out on acid and another guy being carried away on a stretcher – I felt very alive, not to mention horny, all day.

Ronna and I leaned on each other, had lunch and later more food, clapped along with everyone else, and after about six or seven hours, we left our seats and walked around the field, through what seemed like a Woodstock-like muddy one-day city of kids on the raceway turf.

The only time the outside world intruded was when they announced that President Ford had pardoned Nixon for any Watergate crimes, and everyone booed loudly, knowing now that that crook will never come to justice.

The whole concert was going to be eleven or twelve hours, but we left before the end, even if we missed the climax. However, we pretty much rushed home to Canarsie, where we had our own climaxes pretty quickly after getting into her bedroom.

It was quick but oh was it so good and mellow. Afterwards I almost smothered Ronna’s face, breasts and arms with countless kisses. It was an incredible experience, and it was good that it ended satisfactorily for both of us rather swiftly, because we heard Ronna’s mother come in and had to make ourselves presentable in record time.

I stayed for a late supper – boiled chicken and corn – and played some checkers with Ronna before getting home. I hope I can get up for my interview in Manhattan in the morning when I have to present a totally different, formal and respectable side of myself.

You know “Wish they all could be California girls”? I wish they could all be California days like today.

Monday, September 9, 1974

I feel as though I am, quite literally, on the eve of a new chapter in my life. The pace of life has suddenly quickened from the easy-going days of the summer. Tomorrow I begin the first day of the MFA program at Brooklyn College and the first day of work at Sullivan & Cromwell.

I have always feared change – that dreamlike but very real gut-fear that I will not be able to survive in a new environment – but I remember the lines from Rilke that Philip Roth quotes at the end of The Breast: “For there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life.”

My routines are going to be different: I’m going to have to get used to getting up early, going to bed early, commuting to Wall Street by train, driving the car less frequently, writing fiction again, and going to a new office in which I see my shrink.

Somehow all weekend I knew I would get the job I interviewed for this morning. I got there at 11 AM, filled out an application and saw Mrs. Dress in Personnel. I told her I could work full days on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and until 2 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays (the Fiction Workshop meets at 3:15 PM).

She explained that Sullivan & Cromwell was one of the largest law firms in the world, with over 170 lawyers in four offices (two in New York, two in Europe), doing every kind of litigation. They have a private law library which is spread out in bookcases in every office on every floor – that, because of space limitations.

She went to talk to Mrs. Wetherill, the librarian, who took me to the office of her boss, Mr. Steier, one of the partners. (On the way there, we passed an oil painting portrait of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who also had been a partner in the firm.)

Mrs. Wetherill explained to me that the job would be basically getting out law books for lawyers who needed them, finding various volumes, doing some research, taking out books from the Broadway Law Library, indexing recorders and other general work.

It sounds enormously complicated, and I’m afraid I’m going to have many questions tomorrow. Mrs. Wetherill, a Yankee who expects everyone to work very hard, seems to like me and said that many of the lawyers, like Mr. Steier, are moody and have quirks.

(Ronna later confirmed this. Mr. Steier was Mr. Fishman’s opponent in the Monsanto case and he used to scream and curse at Mr. Fishman over the phone – exactly what Mrs. Wetherill said he did at the office.)

Mrs. Wetherill told me the group in the library were all very nice. I was again sent to Mrs. Dress, who, after a short conference, said, “We’d love to hire you,” and I told her I could start right away. The pay is low – $2.25 an hour – but I’ve got to give it a try; on a trial basis, anyway, the job is mine.

I felt ecstatic on the subway ride to the Junction; it’s the first job I’ve ever gotten on my own, without a family member intervening. But Josh damped my enthusiasm a bit over lunch.

“The hours are too long and the pay is too low and the work is too menial,” Josh said. “I had to quit my job at Barron’s for the same reasons.”

Maybe it’s case of misery loves company or something, but as I walked around campus, doubts and fears popped into my head. Anyway, I picked up the playbill ad forms at the Alumni Office, welcomed Alex back from Europe – he loved it – and said hi to Linda, now married to Harvey, who begins her Ph.D. program in Poli Sci at the Graduate Center tomorrow.

From the college, I went over to Ronna’s, bringing her old Kingsman clippings so she could make a portfolio. Somebody else was given the job at CBS that she hoped to get.

We kissed and hugged and watched soap operas (Rose works at the TV station on Avenue M with the teleprompters and gave Ronna all the inside dope on the actors on Another World).

We also discussed Ford’s full pardon of Nixon. The booing at the concert yesterday seems to be the general reaction in the country. The pardon makes it seem that “equal justice for all” is a myth. Ford’s honeymoon with the public is over now.

It’s good to have Ronna around, always; today she was wearing a long dress she’d made. Tomorrow’s going to be a long, tense day, and I’m scared but ready to enter the next phase of my life. Wish me good luck.