A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1974


Monday, December 23, 1974

Lately I’ve forgotten several people’s birthdays – or I remembered them just in time, as I did with Mikey today – and in general I’ve become lax in assiduously cultivating relationships, once one of my prime tasks in life.

I haven’t been in therapy for over three months. Without that guide, can I look at myself with the same unrelenting scrutiny that also was once a big part of my life?

I guess what I’m getting to is that, after reading biographies such as Virginia Woolf’s, I wonder how I’ll appear to people who read this diary in some distant future. I half-hope that some biographer will be combing through these journals, but more likely it will be some surviving friend or relative.

Will I appear mean, foolish, petty? I’m afraid of being judged, after all is said and done – which is why I’ve been so reluctant to criticize anyone else (publicly, anyway).

Last night I had a nice flock of dreams: in one, I was a famous author; in another, I was attracted to a redheaded, freckled girl of 16 or 17 (I helped her with her homework and drove her home via a very circuitous route so I could spend more time with her); in a third dream, Alice was secretly married to Prof. Baumbach.

This morning, hoping no one would see me, I went to Alexander’s. Averting my face on the escalator, I went to Personnel to collect my last check. Everything went smoothly, and I hurried out of the store into a mall filled with next-to-last-minute Christmas shoppers.

In a way, I’m very glad we’re Jewish, and Christmas has always been just another holiday. Otherwise, I think I’d be subject to crushing depressions this time of year. As it is, New Year’s gives me the creeps. Yesterday Gary asked me if I’d made any plans for New Year’s Eve, and I told him I’d probably stay in and ignore it.

Naturally, he’s going out with Kay. He confided to me that he hopes her father can pull some strings and get him a good job in industry. (Mr. Soloway is a big PR man.) Gary wanted to make sure I didn’t think he was going out with Kay because of that – but Gary is too much of a straight shooter to be that diabolical.

Ron from the Voice called this morning and asked if I could come in this Thursday. Ordinarily I’ll be working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but because of the holidays, they want me to come in on Thursday this week. So I’m preparing for that new experience.

I went out to Rockaway to give Mikey his birthday present. Curiously, the road lights near the bridge, which lately have not been working at night, were shining brightly in the sun this afternoon.

I passed Vicky’s house and noticed a goofy-looking kid going inside; he must be Reed, Vicky’s brother, whom Davey has spoken of. Somehow I was glad that Reed was ordinarily looking; I feel he must feel weird with the very good-looking and charismatic Ivan hanging around his house all the time.

(Why do I make my neuroses into everyone else’s? And why do so many things ultimately remind me of Ronna?)

I gave my condolences to Mikey’s mother on the loss of her mother and I gave Mikey a book (which, it turned out, he already had). We sat gabbing in his bedroom for a while.

Mikey told me that Mandy send Mike a Christmas card that read To Mike, Cindy, Mr. and Mrs. Zatulove, Mikey and Brutus: “I didn’t realize I was part of the Zatulove family,” Mikey said, “one step above the dog.”

Mikey also said that Mason has gone with his parents to Florida in their Winnebago trailer; before he left, Mason mentioned to Larry that he hoped Libby would come along, too. Larry had a birthday cake for Mikey yesterday.

After about an hour or so, I let Mikey return to his schoolwork and I went home to Brooklyn.

Wednesday, December 25, 1974

It’s 4 AM on Christmas Day. I’ve just driven most of the length of Flatbush Avenue, and nearly all of Brooklyn’s citizens seem to be in bed; Santa Claus should be finishing his rounds about now.

I realize that it’s kind of early for me to be making an entry in my diary, but after all, it’s Christmas and a special day. And I feel special; I don’t know it’s the Christmas spirit or what, but I’ve never thought life so worthwhile.

I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna in these difficult times, but I feel so damned good. And since in the house, not a creature besides me is stirring, I wanted to share and preserve my good feelings.

Last evening, the whole Grayson family went out for dinner at the Floridian. Originally we had planned to take Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel out for their 45th anniversary, but Grandpa Herb got a call from Peninsula Hospital and went in this afternoon. He took a bus there, which I think took a lot of guts.

Our meal at the Floridian was overshadowed by Jonny having an anxiety attack. He was nervous and shaky and afraid he was going to get sick. I knew just what he was going through: it was exactly like watching the rerun of a film I’d seen ten years ago.

It was interesting to see myself in Jonathan. While I was concerned about his suffering – the more so because I know exactly what it feels like – I also felt the same mixture of exasperation, helplessness and finally annoyance that the others were feeling.

But I knew that Jonathan was making himself sick. Perhaps I sounded coolly cruel, the way Aunt Arlyne used to sound to me, but I told him that nothing would happen to him, that he should just wait it out and try to express what he was feeling.

However, Jonny pulled one of my old tricks and just wanted to walk home, and so he did. I tried to allay Mom’s hovering concern and Dad’s temper; after all, I told them, at least we know what we’re dealing with now, unlike when I got sick. Back then, it seemed really peculiar and we didn’t know if I’d ever get out of having those crippling anxiety attacks.

But I did, and hopefully Jonny will go to a therapist now. At least Mom and Dad realize now that I wasn’t just a crazy fluke. (Marc’s hangups take a different form, but I admire Marc’s commonsense attitude: he believes in doing what he fears to do).

Mom still tends to blame herself. I tried to convince her of what I believe, very strongly: that blame is an irrelevancy, and what is, is. (How I used to want to believe that. Now I can’t see anything else as making any sense.)

You have to explore the origins of things in your life, but there’s no point on dwelling on things like “failure” and “success.” Feelings are all important; if Jonathan could feel what his body and mind won’t let him feel, he wouldn’t be anxious.

Back home, the five of us had an open and wonderfully relaxing discussion of the dynamics of our family, our individual fears and frustrations.

Afterwards I felt so good that I called Ronna and said, basically, Look, I don’t want to play mind-fucking games but being apart is hard for both of us and it can occasionally lead to scenes like the one we had yesterday.

I apologized for being hurtful, but I couldn’t promise it might not happen again; my feelings are all confused now. She understood – “I knew you would call and say something like that,” she said – and we decided to just let our feelings guide us in the future.

“It’s the only way,” Ronna said. (After our family talk, Marc felt confident enough to call Fern, too.) After wishing Ronna a merry Christmas, I rang up Allan and told him to have a great trip to Florida; he sounded very glad that I had called.

At 10 PM, I arrived at Simon’s place in the Heights (which is fast becoming my home away from home), after his guests had just finished what they said was a delicious dinner. I met his sister Linda, 27; her boyfriend Zeke; her neighbor Teddy, who teaches Catholic school; and Simon’s friend Louis, who writes a racing column for a sports paper.

We drank punch and listened to music and watched the Yule Log on TV; we tried to play charades and talked quietly. It was a very relaxed, low-key evening, and I enjoyed that Christmas Eve seemed rather mellow.

But Simon was distressed that no one else whom he’d invited showed up. When the others left, I stayed on, as I knew Simon dreaded being alone. We watched A Christmas Carol, and at 3 AM, I left Brooklyn Heights, feeling good.

Thursday, December 26, 1974

Yesterday seemed like one of the best Christmases ever. I woke up at 1 PM, had a leisurely breakfast and lay around the house for a while before I decided to go to the hospital to visit Grandpa Herb.

I met Ivan driving up Rockaway Beach Boulevard; after I saw him in front of me, we stopped together for the light at Beach 130th Street. He had trouble rolling down the window of the van.

“Merry Christmas,” I said, and told him I was going to visit my grandfather at Peninsula. He said he was in a hurry, going to pick up Vicky and her parents. We waved and parted company.

It was good to Ivan again. For one thing, I can see that he’s human and not the godlike creature I sometimes picture him to be.

Grandpa Herb looked fine yesterday and said he wasn’t nervous and there were nice people in his room, visiting the man in the next bed. I drove Grandma Ethel back to her place at 4 PM. (Marc had driven her to the hospital this morning on his way to visit Cousin Scott, home for Christmas, in Cedarhurst.)

After dinner, I called Gary just to say hello, and he told me to come over: Kay was there, and he wanted for me to finally meet her. I was a bit curious as well as restless, so I was over there in a flash.

Gary’s parents had a couple of friends over, and Gary’s Aunt Elsie and Uncle Arnold were visiting, too. Kay was neatly dressed, wearing the locket Gary gave her. She looks like a very sweet Jewish-American princess (that’s a category, not a value judgment), but she was also pretty in a sort of dark, fawn-like way.

Kay is pleasant, more so than Wendy (although I remember finding Wendy delightful when I first met her two years ago, so my first impressions are notoriously inaccurate). She’s a Spanish/theater major at Queens College.

As Mr. Marcus tried to get us all to listen to his Eddie Fisher and Jimmy Durante 78 RPM records, we all settled down for coffee and delicious lemon meringue pie (which I could not resist despite my desire to reduce my paunch).

Later, Gary, Kay and I retreated into Gary’s bedroom. Kay seems to be dominated by her strict, well-to-do parents – they will not even allow her to come over to Gary’s house without a chaperon – who have a huge house in Bayside. She’s thinking of going to law school, not because she has an overwhelming desire to learn the law, but because her father wants her to.

I left at 8:30 PM, riding down in the elevator with Gary and Kay; Gary had a long drive to Queens and back ahead of him. Before we parted, Gary mentioned that he visited Allan in his office at Columbia on Monday and they had a nice chat.

This morning I awoke early and took the D train to West 4th Street, walking to the Village Voice office from there. The Display Advertising Department is on the second floor, and Ron, a balding, bearded, presumably gay guy about 35, cheerfully explained my messengerly duties.

It seems that all ad copy, checks and other stuff have to be delivered and picked up at various places around the city. There are four other messengers, each of whom is assigned a sector of Manhattan (with 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue dividing the quadrants), and as the low man on the totem pole, I’m assigned different places to go to.

Ron showed me how to fill out the time sheet and introduced me to some other people in the office. Then he gave me one package to deliver and some addresses where something was to be picked up.

So for three hours I rode subways, basically. I picked up and delivered envelopes and packages on Broadway and Duane Street, at Amsterdam and West 92nd Street, and around Bloomingdale’s on East 61st Street.

Everyone is relaxed and cool at the Voice office, and I feel no pressure. It’s too early to tell how the job will work out, but it has its advantages: I get to see a lot of the city (they pay my carfare), I can dress like a slob, I get fresh air and exercise walking and time to reflect, to plan stories, to daydream.

There was no work after 1 PM so I left then. When I arrived home, I found the Montego badly smashed on the driver’s side. It seems that Mom had opened the door to get out while parked by the fruit store on Avenue N, and a woman drove by quickly and practically tore the door off its hinges. It can’t really be closed now, and a whole new door will be needed, but at least Mom wasn’t hurt although she was very upset.

The surgery on Grandpa Herb didn’t go as smoothly as his last cataract operation; they had to give him IV and he was very uncomfortable. I hope he’ll be better tomorrow, when I shall visit him after work.

Sunday, December 29, 1974

If I sounded mawkishly self-pitying yesterday, it was because I felt that way. I am coming to the end of 1974 feeling confused and unsure of myself and a bit frightened.

Also, I am tired. I hope this is temporary, but right now I don’t have the energy to change my life. I feel beaten down in so many ways. This really calls for an appointment with Mrs. Ehrlich, but I cannot afford one.

I took down the 1974 calendar Ronna so lovingly made and replaced it with a poster I got today at the Brooklyn Museum: “Pride and Prejudice – A Woman’s Exhibition.”

Part of the reason I’m so depressed is that I must spend New Year’s Eve alone. Everyone else seems to have some party to go to, a date to spend the evening with.

I almost want to call Ronna and ask her if we can be together, but I don’t know if that would be right. We shouldn’t drift back together just because neither of us has anyone else.

As Alice told me today, I don’t miss Ronna specifically so much as I just miss having a girlfriend. “And,” Alice said, “the solution to that is obvious.” I guess I am hungry for a relationship – which may explain why I’ve been overeating lately.

Alice invited me over for lunch, and when she stuck her head out of the refrigerator and asked if I wanted to have a date, I immediately assumed she had a friend for me – but all she had was fruit.

I don’t know, sometimes I think the whole world is a crazy jigsaw:

Mark Savage getting in the middle of that gunfight in Crown Heights between rival Ethiopian sects (pro- and anti-Haile Selassie);

Aunt Minnie telling me yesterday of a girl she knew who at the last minute decided not to go to that party Sharon Tate threw in the summer of 1969, the one that ended with the guests’ murders;

a black salesman coming up to Dad’s place and telling the bookkeeper, “Daniel Grayson,” to which Ella replied that Dad was out to lunch, to which the man replied: “No, my name is Daniel Grayson.”

What a planet. Are we dancing futilely to our deaths, or are we just “growing old and fat,” as Mark said when we met? I feel everyone around me is in a numb state, the way everyone was in Larry’s bedroom yesterday.

Mike, using his locksmith skills, was changing all the locks in Larry’s house while Cindy and Mikey and I were drooping on Larry’s bed and chairs. Cindy still can’t find a job even though she’s lowered her sights some.

At least it’s nice to see her and Mike together; it’s nice to see people who get along well. (But not too well: today Gary talked about “movies we’ve seen that we didn’t like,” leading me to wonder if he and Kay ever disagree in their tastes.)

Mikey said that he and Gary had been working together at the Brooklyn College library for two days, and he told me about other people. Mikey saw Susan and Felicia and said that Susan looked “ridiculous” in her Afro and wearing contact lenses.

Davey, Mikey reported, is up to eleven miles a day now. (Maybe Davey is right and running is the cure for everyone’s problems, the ultimate panacea.)

Mikey also said that Elayne came over to him and asked if he had any bad stories about Leroy because she dislikes him so much now. (Wasn’t that inevitable?)

Teresa sent me a Christmas card. She’s been ill with the flu and said she thinks Elspeth has no use for old friends like us.

Marc has been having stomach pain and diarrhea for days, and he thinks he’s developing an ulcer.

The whole world seems on the frantic edge of insanity, slouching toward Bethlehem. (I’ve been thinking of Yeats lately – or is that “Yates leatly”?)

Anyhow, I finally managed to fall asleep last night on my grandparents’ Castro convertible – I was not used to hearing the waves all night – and soon after I woke up at 10 AM, I went to Peninsula Hospital to have Grandpa Herb discharged.

Naturally, they took him down in a wheelchair although he was fully capable of walking, and was, in fact, so anxious to leave that he might have jogged home. At least I did something good and useful today.

Alice was sweet enough to invite me over for lunch, and I poorly repaid her hospitality by bending her ear when I unburdened myself to her. Alice was alone on Christmas Day because Andreas was working, so she overate, binging on ice cream. She gained back the five pounds she lost.

Alice and I discussed writing, and Robert’s latest letter from London, and my messenger job at the Voice. Alice is a great friend.

Tuesday, December 31, 1974

It’s 7:30 PM and so there are four and a half hours left in 1974. Snow, the first snow of the season, is falling gently outside. From my window, I can see that the ground is being dusted white; it’s a wet snow, though, and I think it will turn to rain.

Curiously, a kind of composed, somewhat confident peace has settled over me. This past week I’ve been absolutely frantic about being alone on New Year’s Eve. I kept asking everyone I knew what they were doing on this night, hoping I might have somewhere to go.

But all the people I spoke to seemed to be busy. Mikey, Mike and Cindy had a party at some friend’s house, someone I don’t know. Gary and Kay were having dinner out in Bayside. Simon was seeing Naomi; Mason and Allan are in Florida; Alice was going out with Andreas; Elihu said he was going out dancing with a group of thirteen people (a group including, I’m sure, Jerry and Shelli, Leon and possibly Skip).

And I was pointedly not invited to spend the evening with Ronna and Susan; in retrospect, I believe that was wise.

Strangely, a couple of hours ago I suddenly realized that being alone on New Year’s Eve didn’t matter as much I thought it would for the past several days. Because, while I am a social animal, I know that I fit in with myself, and maybe that’s enough for one night.

This is only one night in a lifetime, after all. And I don’t feel like spending what little money I have on dancing and drinking, because I don’t enjoy those things.

So my big conclusion was that if I was so desperate to be with people tonight, if I was so terrified to be alone, perhaps I might do best to do exactly what I fear the most and see if I can survive being lonely tonight.

It is, after all, only another winter evening. And where is it written that one has to go out on New Year’s Eve? Isn’t that just another “should” that we use to control our lives rather than acting upon our feelings?

There’s no reason I should have to feel guilty or ashamed for being alone, but I do, a little. Last year, or the year before, when I was going out with Ronna, it wouldn’t have bothered me to be alone, for I knew I had the option to be with someone.

Now I don’t – but there are other options. No, I am choosing to be alone tonight. Although Jonny is here in the house with me: maybe I should consider the fact that he’s a person, too, not just a kid brother. So I’m not really alone: I’m with a person who loves me, whom I love.

I’m trying not to feel sorry for myself. And why should I feel sorry for myself? All in all, I’ve had many happy times this year, and I will have them in 1975, too.

Being alone is a kind of risk. When Ronna and I stopped seeing each other, we were in effect saying we were willing to risk loneliness in the hopes of finding a better, more satisfactory relationship (or at least to avoid the hassles we’d been having).

I quit my job at Alexander’s – a risk – and then out of the blue, this job with the Village Voice came up. Maybe a new person will come my way too, especially if I put myself in the right places. And if such a person doesn’t come for a while – well, I can wait.

Except I won’t really be waiting: I’ll be living in the here and now, writing, working, thinking, doing things, seeing people.

Today, for instance, I slept deliciously between freshly pressed sheets. I had showered before bedtime and that made it even better. Mom drove me to the station, and I arrived at work at 10 AM.

I had to make some deliveries and so I stopped off at Dad’s place. I met Joel in the elevator and wished him and Michael a happy new year. Dad wasn’t busy and told me that he’d wait until after 2 PM, when I got off work, and drive me back home.

So I made my rounds in midtown Manhattan, using my 75¢ Shoppers Special bus fare; it gives me unlimited rides for the day between Eighth and Third Avenues and 34th and 59th Streets, so I can keep some of the carfare for myself instead of using it on subways.

I picked up some checks and ad copy and delivered some things and used the bathroom in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and had a quick bite at the Bun ‘n’ Burger by Rockefeller Center, where I saw Gene Shalit from the Today show.

Once I finished at the Voice office, I wished Ron and everyone a happy new year and returned to “the place,” and Dad and I left for Brooklyn after I got some carrot cake at Brownie’s to take home.

Mom and Dad are going out soon, and so is Marc, but now I feel all right about staying home to see in 1975. I’ll be fine.