A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1975


Sunday, June 1, 1975

4 PM. The sun only just came out; before it had been grey and drizzly. The air is heavy and my sinuses are congested. I’m tired of being alone. I was alone yesterday and last night and today.

Maybe it’s what I deserve, though, and maybe it’s good for me. I do write, and I do get ideas for stories. There are some stories going around in my head right now.

One is “The Man Who Invented Bloomsbury,” a sort of Barthelmean satire how much dreck is written about that whole group. Who cares anymore what Lytton said to Clive about Virginia? I used to be interested myself, but now the whole thing is a bore.

I am also thinking of writing a piece called “Mao in the Lehman Collection” – all I have now is a title. But I don’t want to lose my ability to write realistic fiction. If I was really gutsy, I’d write something confessional á la Jong, Roth, Cyril Connolly, Fred Exley, Ned Rorem et al.

An idea came to me during the night, a dream-filled night with endless aching erections (I had two orgasms but it wasn’t enough). Maybe I could write about my life in relation to Ivan’s; after all, for years I’ve seen as weirdly related and I’ve been fascinated by it.

There seem to be many links between us: our lifestyles, our women (Shelli, Ronna, Stacy), our values. Yet I’ve always felt Ivan, because he was much better-looking and wealthier, more diligent and more poised, has been my superior. In my own way, I suppose I’ve been in love with him.

Maybe I could write a long story about the past few years and Shelli, Ronna, etc., and do it all from the perspective of my feelings about Ivan. Yesterday I saw him and Vicky walking his dog; they looked so natural together, so happy. I would like to be Ivan and I’d like to be Vicky, too.

Just a little while ago, driving home up Ocean Parkway, I saw a young couple on a bench. Suddenly the girl encircled the boy with her arms. It was the nicest gesture I’ve witnessed in a long time. The boy noticed me staring at them from my car stopped at the red light, and I could see he felt uncomfortable, so of course I immediately turned away.

This morning I was reviewing Borges and Cortázar for tomorrow’s Comp Lit final; I’m still astounded by their inventiveness, particularly Borges’.

I slapped Jonny this morning at breakfast. He was so nasty I just didn’t know what else to do. Why do adolescents get that way? They seem to feel they know everything and the whole world is hopelessly insipid.

Jonny has become rude, insolent and obnoxious, and I must admit that I used to like him better. I had to get out of the house, so I took a long drive to recharge my batteries.

I went to Staten Island, past Richmond College (my association with RC is about to end two years after it began when my M.A. is awarded this summer), up Victory Boulevard and the Expressway into New Jersey. I got onto the Turnpike and drove north, past Newark Airport and then into Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

I would like to be somewhere else – on the road, I don’t know where. In New Writers, there was this story by a guy in a Ph.D. program in Writing at the University of Utah, and it made me fantasize about going out to Salt Lake City next year and taking up a new life.

I had lunch in my favorite Village spot, The Bagel, the hole-in-the-wall on West 4th where it intersects with West 10th. I love the onions they have for hamburgers.

There are so many gay people there, and I realized once more how I am turned off by most Village homosexuals – not disgusted, but not aroused – I just left feeling somehow that they’re irrelevancies.

I can’t describe their look but I can recognize it. The guys I’ve been attracted to always look straight. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. In a matter of days I’ll be 24, and here I am, unloved and un-loving (to quote from one of my stories), confused, living at home, unsure of my life.

Yet the paradox is that most of the time I’m happy, and I’ve lost about 75% of my neuroses in the past four years. I feel fully prepared to die right now and not feel scared or cheated out of anything. I don’t welcome death, but when it happens, it happens. Right now, though, the old fatalist must go on with the business of being alive.

Monday, June 2, 1975

10 PM. I’m tired after what seems a long day. It got very nice late yesterday and I got a couple of franks at Nathan’s and then went to visit Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb in Rockaway.

The beach project has reached their house, and already much of the beach has been reclaimed. It fills me with unexplainable joy just to see it.

I was wearing my tight T-shirt and both Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb commented on my “big muscles.” Well, I’ve been exercising every day and it’s good to know there’s a change in my physique. But I do not like my short hair and can’t wait until it grows out; I feel I look like a David Bowie fag.

Today’s registration for the Summer Language Institute went smoothly. I’m taking Elementary French at 10 AM to 12:30 PM Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I heard Dean Kingkade and Marie Miller in their office near the room where I registered.

It should be fun going to the Graduate Center; traveling by train to 42nd Street is convenient, and it’s a lovely building, and it will be nice to get back to my French after so many years.

I say “my” French, and I think one reason I never got back to it before was that Dr. D’Avanzo was my only French teacher and her sudden death upset me.

I went to school late this afternoon to take my Comp Lit final. While parking my car, I saw Stacy. She said she had just seen a close friend off on a trip, and she was kind of depressed, so I think it must have been a rather special friend.

Stacy will be working at Brooklyn College until June 20; she said she needs eye therapy and asked if I could recommend anyone. Stacy and I chatted pleasantly and then parted.

In Boylan, I saw Mike coming down the opposite end of a long corridor; he really was a sight for sore eyes. (That’s not a cliché, either, for I could feel my vision of him satisfying something in my eyes.)

This coming fall, Mike will be counseling freshmen entering the School of Science, and in September he’ll be in the Advanced Certificate program in School Psychology. Cindy will probably continue working at the insurance company but may go to grad school at night.

Mike said that Mikey doesn’t like his job in the John Jay financial aid office, but I hadn’t thought he would. I told Mike that we must get together and then he went home and I took my Comp Lit final.

I wrote from 6 to 8 PM, but it was mostly bullshit; Simon handed in a paper instead. I think I’ll get only a B in Comp Lit, but Spielberg gave me in an A in Workshop and I expect Schaeffer will do the same for Tutorial.

Colchie was rather cold; he turned his back as Cheryl and I were about to say goodbye and thank you to him. I drove Cheryl home and we talked all the way. I think I was supposed to her ask for her number, but I didn’t. She’s a nice girl, but I don’t think I could be more than acquaintances with her.

An odd thing I just remembered: as the final dragged on, several of the exiting students made a point of coming over to me and saying goodbye; two even squeezed my shoulder. Maybe I have this magnetic personality? For some weird reason, people seem to find me likable.

I went over to the Marcuses’ apartment after driving Cheryl home. Gary had arrived from London at JFK at 2:30 PM. He looks fine, he lost weight, and of course he had tales to tell of his adventures in Europe.

Bill and Rosemary Beer were marvelous hosts in Strasbourg. He didn’t care too much for Amsterdam, but there he was all alone and ill. Best of all, though, was England; by now, Gary is an Anglophile through and through.

He stayed with friends in Cardiff, Hull, and London, and enjoyed himself tremendously. I sat with him and his parents and their neighbor Erica (whose cousin Cyril he visited) and looked at the British Monopoly set and all the other lovely things he’d brought back.

It’s good to have Gary home again. Tomorrow he’s got Kay’s graduation from Queens College. He still has that same bad cough he left with, though.

I got nice, personal rejections from New Infinity Review and Mademoiselle today. Both said they want to see more of my stuff.

Tuesday, June 3, 1975

It’s the eve of my 24th birthday. I’ve been cleaning my room, filing away my xerox copies of stories in a metal cabinet. There are so many scraps of paper in my room because I’ve acquired too much and never throw anything out.

So I have prescriptions for my baby formula, A+ papers from second grade, cards, letters, Playbills, menus, scraps of paper with obscure messages written on them. Secretly I’ve always hoped I would become famous someday, so I’ve preserved a record for future biographers and scholars.

A “Grayson scholar”: how funny that sounds and how pompously egotistical. But Bob Wouk once mentioned my “tremendous, tremendous narcissism,” and I’ve never forgotten that phrase with his significantly repeated adjective.

I’m aware that I’ve often addressed these diary pages to posterity and I’m trying to combat that tendency. It does me no good, and it’s more likely that this diary/journal will never be read at all except perhaps by some curious grandnephew or -niece after my funeral.

My death: I was thinking of that last night as I lay awake in bed. I never expected to live to age 24, and in many ways I didn’t expect life to be this good. So I’m prepared for death at any time. It’s odd that I don’t believe in God, yet late at night at odd moments I find myself thanking Him for my good life.

People who know me would be very surprised to think that I’m a strong person and deeply religious, though not in a conventional sense. I believe in Life, but that’s maybe only because my life has been touched by so many good things.

Even on a blah day like Sunday there was something to be grateful for: that magnificent red-pastel sunset as I drove home from Rockaway. I have a good family, and even at 24, I’ve been able to know my grandparents, probably one of the major influences upon me.

I do believe in love. On Sunday morning I came downstairs to find Mom and Dad dancing close in the kitchen. If there is neurosis in their relationship, no one can deny that there’s also love.

I’ve had the rare experience to be in therapy for years, and that has given me a lot. I’ve always had food, good food, and nice clothes, and a car to take me places, and thank God, I’ve had good health. And there are friends. . . but I’m sounding like Pollyanna.

Who knows, tomorrow my world may fall apart and all my alleged faith and strength will be tested. I know Rilke was right when he said I must change my life, and I will. But I hope I can go on writing and reading, gossiping and meddling, teaching and learning.

Look at the garrulous old not-yet-24-year-old! But for the moment I feel loved.

The school term came to a close yesterday, and now I have time on my hands. I’ve got to find something constructive to do or else I shall waste my days with too much unstructured time. Becoming surfeited with free time is no good.

But if I can look back once at this spring term of 1975, let me just say – here I go again, sounding like a Dr. Pangloss – that it was the best term of my life, mainly because I was a teacher as well as a student. I can’t imagine this summer can ever be so good.

Sunday, June 8, 1975

10 PM. I’m alive again; I feel completely rejuvenated. Last night was a step in the right direction: it was good to be all gussied up (as Alice would say) and stepping out on a Saturday night, even if it was only to the Brooklyn College Student Center.

Just to be in a sport jacket among well-dressed people, drinking punch and eating hors d’oeuvres, was pleasant enough – but being with Alice, who’s zany and lively, made things better.

At first she wanted to crash other people’s parties (we actually did stay at some function in the Penthouse for some time), but finally we joined Karen and Maddy at the alumni installation.

President Kneller told some lousy jokes and then Liz Holtzman swore in the Alumni Association officers, and Ira Harkavy made a dull speech which was probably briefer than it felt like it was.

Finally we all sang the BC alma mater: a hilarious experience, for no one knew the words (“O campus green, with towers of marble / Lifting white spires in air / O Brooklyn is our Alma Mater / And she is wondrous fair”), supposedly written by Danny Kaye’s wife Sylvia.

Then there was the reception in the Maroon Room. All evening Alice trailed a continental type who was the date of the Travel Coordinator, and who, Alice said, “spoke with a heck-sent.”

Alice got drunk on the Pernod-spiked punch and had me, Karen and Maddy in stitches with her angling to catch this guy. At one point I was doubled up with laughter, and Hilary Gold and his wife looked as me if I was crazy. (Alice wrote the name “E.A. Poe” on my nametag.)

Karen said she was glad she decided not to bring her boyfriend, for most of the people there were on the aged side (I guess I shouldn’t say that, as I’m getting there myself.) I wished Maddy good luck in her new job at some Jewish philanthropic organization and congratulated her on her theater MFA.

After 11 PM I took Alice home and told her that, surprisingly, I ended up having a good time.

At 10 AM today, I woke up Ronna with a phone call; she said it was nice to hear my voice in the morning. I picked her up at noon; she looked absolutely terrific in a plum danskin and carpenter’s jeans, and I gave her a big hug and kiss right away: it just came out naturally.

Then, after she gave me a birthday card (as usual, a sweet one, not a funny one) and gifts –two tins of tea, cinnamon stick and Constant Comment – I hugged her again.

We took a drive out to Long Island. For some time I’ve wanted to share Garvies Point with her, and today I did it. Ronna really seemed to like the place.

We walked around the nature trails, which smelled like a florist shop, so clean – and down along the beach. Then we took off our clay-covered shoes and walked around the Nassau County Museum in our stocking feet.

It was a cool, cloudy day, but the weather seemed to fit. As we drove back towards the city, it was getting late, so we stopped to have a late lunch at Pizza City in Howard Beach.

We had a lot of time to talk on the long drive. On Friday, Ronna quit her job at ARCO. I was somewhat surprised at that but felt quite proud that she was able to do what she had wanted to do for such a long time. She has another couple of weeks there, and then she’s got some vacation time.

She told me about her weekend with Gwen and her Filipina friends in Washington, and her camping weekend upstate with Henry and Craig. It seems obvious that Henry is just a friend. Her sister has pretty much broken up with Hank, and Ronna says she’s glad about that.

Back at Ronna’s house, we watched TV and kept nuzzling each other. I know I was the aggressor, but she didn’t resist; we are both still very attracted to each other.

The air was charged with heavy sexual tension. It felt good to hold someone, for us to touch each other’s arm, hair, breast. I guess we were both hungry for each other’s body, and finally we retired to Ronna’s new bedroom – Billy’s old room, neater than I’d ever seen it – and made love.

By now we know each other’s moves and we mesh well together. I can’t write very well about sex, so suffice it to say that the earth moved for me when I had a prolonged throbbing orgasm and Ronna was responding the same way.

Ronna’s father brought Billy home soon afterwards, so there was no time for the two of us to just lie in bed and hold each other. But we had a long talk and decided that we can go on this way.

Neither of us is in love with the other, but we do love each other both as friends and as lovers. I left around 8 PM, giving Ronna a big hug. After such a perfect day together, I hated to leave her house.

Monday, June 9, 1975

7 PM on a cool, bright June day. The most surprising thing about today was that I was able to turn out a story. It may not be the best thing I ever have written, but “Homecoming” is eight pages long and rather cute, I think: it’s all about Saturday night and Alice in SUBO.

The idea from which the story developed came to me in the middle of the night: to wrap my little “scenes” around the lines of a mawkish Alma Mater song to counterpoint the absurdity. It’s a device similar to the one I used in “Roman Buildings.”

For the first time in my life, I went into Sears in Flatbush, to purchase a badly-needed typewriter ribbon. Who should I see standing next to me but Alice’s continental dreamboat. I nearly went bananas when I saw him, I thought it was so funny.

So I went directly home, installed the ribbon, and began typing. And suddenly, without a single correction, I had a story!

Mom came into my room this afternoon, showing me a piece in Playboy about the Fiction Collective; it impressed her, if not me.

Mom and Aunt Arlyne were talking on the phone earlier in the day. It seems I’m the despair of my family because my writing is too “deep” and “not commercial.”

All the various Graysons, Sarretts and Ginsbergs are waiting for me to produce another bestseller like Jaws or that new book, something about hijacking the Super Bowl.

Also, Mom said that Grandma Ethel doesn’t like my hair short, that she much preferred when my hair fell long and loose over my forehead and onto my shoulders. I have to admit I think I did too, and that most of the people who count – my brothers, Ronna, my school friends – seem to feel the same way. So I’ll let my hair grow in for a while and then I can be a hippie again.

For a person with nothing to do, I seem to be occupied every minute. I haven’t been bored all day, and I didn’t get a chance to do some things I wanted to.

I must call Josh. I’ve really been remiss, but I find it hard to handle the situation of his sister’s death. Still, a good friend wouldn’t be so neglectful. I also need to call Mara and Vito.

And I was thinking of sending a letter of inquiry out to the director of the Ph.D. program in Creative Writing at the University of Utah; I learned about the program from New Writers. It couldn’t hurt to find out what’s going on in Salt Lake City.

And there are checks to cash and books to read (more books than checks) and chores to get done. For a change, I feel active and fulfilled. Seeing Ronna yesterday gave me a real lift.

And it’s not just the sexual release, either, although the abdominal charley horse from making love is a terribly sweet reminder of our day together. No, just holding and being close to a loved one is good, apparently just what the doctor ordered.

Ronna says she’s not in love with me anymore. But Ronna also says she’ll always be in love with the Richie she first fell in love with in December 1972, just as she’ll always be in love with – I finally understand this – the Ivan she knew when she was an adolescent.

But she does care for me a lot.

And, being honest, wiping away all my fears of getting hurt and my jealous annoyance, I know that I have such a high regard for Ronna Caplan as a friend and as a woman.

Yesterday she even said it herself: at times she looks at herself in a mirror and is surprised by the woman who looks back at her. She is a woman more of the time now, just as I am becoming (I hope), more and more often, a man.

In America today, we tend to have a prolonged adolescence and don’t reach full maturity until age 30 or so. I’d like to stick around occasionally and find out what sort of woman Ronna evolves into. I wish her only good things, and yes, I even hope that one day she will find a man she can be happy with.

Of course I hope for the same for myself, and apparently I have no choice but to stick around and see what sort of monster I’m creating out of what raw material has been given me.

I feel like I’m some kind of explorer, a Lewis and Clark of the emotions, a Columbus of the intellect. Life is one grand exciting discovery after another.