A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1975


Wednesday, December 24, 1975

4 PM on Christmas Eve. Probably it’s simply my imagination, but I could swear I can feel the days getting longer already. They say that even in pre-Christian times they celebrated this time of year because the winter solstice marked the beginning of longer daylight and shorter nights.

Though the icy, slushy mess of winter’s first snowstorm is still on the city streets, I am looking forward to the spring. In some ways I wish I was going to Florida with Marc, but I’ll make do here in New York.

I wanted to go into Manhattan today. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas unless I go to Rockefeller Center. And there were the crowds there, hundreds of people walking along.

There’s no place like New York: on the subways I was with a high-fashion lady in furs and perfume, reading the New York Times through half-glasses, looking over her last-minute shopping list at Saks; a grey-bearded tzaddik reading the Forward in Yiddish (I can still make out some words); black dudes all dressed up in elaborate costumes, with their inevitable sneakers; and one of those characters who seem to exist only in this city, a wild, dirty man of indeterminate age who kept shouting “Yes! Yes!” to himself and bringing endless items like milk cartons out of a shopping bag.

I went to the Gotham Book Mart because Baumbach’s always saying how that store has the best selection of little magazines in New York. In their back room, I looked over dozens of publications.

The latest New Writers came out, and I noticed that one writing professor who used the magazine in his class wrote a letter saying that “Rampant Burping” was “unanimously condemned” by his students.

That made me angry – perhaps that’s why I didn’t buy the magazine – but in a way, it also flattered me because already I’m controversial, and the controversial always arouse interest and publicity. And weren’t things like The Waste Land, Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover sneered at or worse?

Anyhow, I ended up with another copy of Patti Smith’s poems autographed by her when she came into the store yesterday; I’m going to give the book to Avis. The other day I explained to her that Patti Smith is a poet turned rock star who’s being hailed as “the new Dylan” (two months ago that title belonged to Bruce Springsteen); she’ll be having a big show at The Bottom Line this week.

The tree at Rockefeller Center was huge, as usual, with the same comfortable lights and the angels in their places. For a while, I watched the skaters, then went up Fifth Avenue, dropping some money into the Salvation Army box. They were playing “’Tis the Season to Be Jolly,” and there were sidewalk Santas by the dozens.

I went into St. Patrick’s for a few minutes; the grandeur of that cathedral always knocks me out. They were setting up TV cameras in order to cover Midnight Mass tonight.

After a quick bite at Bun ‘n’ Burger, I took a subway crowded with people let out of work early back into Brooklyn. At home, I found a rejection awaiting me. (This morning I sent out ten submissions. I had been intending to wait a while, but the postal rate is scheduled to go up and I wanted to save extra postage).

There was also a notice from Brooklyn College about registration. In January, I’ll register for my fourth and final semester in the MFA program; I don’t know what extra course I’ll take.

Yesterday Baumbach proposed that we all take on the roles of other class members on the Tuesday when we come back from Christmas break. We got as far as drawing people’s names when we all started to become uncomfortable and I suggested the exercise could turn out to be very cruel; Baumbach has a sadistic streak in him.

Last night it was so good to hear from Debbie after such a long time. I told her that I must see her and she said she’ll arrange it with Mandy so that we can all get together. After all this time, I’d love to see them both again.

When I spoke with Mikey on Monday, he said he would be doing his thesis over his enforced City University furlough “vacation.”

Mikey ran into Mason’s mother on the subway and the family’s trip is off: Wally was arrested in Israel, for what they don’t know, and Mason’s mother is going to fly there next week to see what’s going on.

Thursday, December 25, 1975

This has been the nicest and most Christmas-y Christmas I can remember: a really delightful day all around.

Last evening I got a visit, not from Santa, but from Scott. He called and said he’d be over later in the evening. But when he arrived, the first thing out of Scott’s mouth was, “I got a call from a friend and I’ve got to be in Great Neck by 10 PM.”

His visit was like a whirlwind which left the house in disrepair and myself befuddled. I don’t think I can take Scott anymore; if anything, he’s grown even more arrogant and obnoxious over the years.

Just to be polite, I asked if he wanted coffee; I didn’t know that Mom was cleaning the oven at the time, so she had to rush to get the stove ready for him. Once he had the coffee, which he disparaged because it was instant (no one at our house drinks coffee), Scott, in succession, spilled the coffee on the floor, bragged about his friends on Capitol Hill, and berated me for my supposedly illiberal attitudes.

Then Scott asked what books he could borrow (when I said we didn’t have any books on Justice Douglas, he said I should get some – presumably so he could borrow them), demanded a dime so that he could call if he got lost on the way to Great Neck, and wondered aloud why Avis didn’t seem too enthusiastic when he phoned her.

I should have told him that Avis can’t stand him, and neither can I, but he was off in a flash, telling me we must have dinner in Chinatown before he goes off to Paris next week. Oh boy.

Today, however, was wonderful. I arrived at the Judsons at 2 PM while Libby and Avis were still baking apple and pumpkin pies. I gave Mrs. Judson a gift of handkerchiefs; my present to Libby will be taking her to the airport on Sunday.

There was a gift for me under the tiny tree: a bag of home-baked oatmeal cookies. Wyatt and Angelina were around, and I enjoy seeing them as they sweetly grab each other all the time, filled with teenage passion.

Libby, her mother and Avis went to Midnight Mass at Trinity Church (now Midnight Mass is actually at 10:30 PM because people are afraid to walk the streets any later than that).

Avis said Teresa called and that she’s busy with scads of plans for her visit to New York; hopefully, we can be included in Teresa’s schedule, maybe this Saturday night, on Avis’s birthday. (Libby and I decided to do something less formal than a party for her.)

The Judsons aren’t fancy; Libby’s mother is very casual about herself and her kitchen (and oh that is so nice for me, such a change from home and Mom’s kitchen). Wyatt was wearing a dirty T-shirt, and we ate at the kitchen table.

Mrs. Judson carved the turkey the way her Ukrainian father had taught her, and we stuffed ourselves on candied yams, squash, cranberries, and other things. The cats got the table scraps. After we finished, we sat around the kitchen table, talking and feeling sleepy.

It was a real family-type Christmas, and I loved being a part of it. After dinner, Wyatt and I went into the living room, where he gave me a maze he drew, and for the next half-hour I drove myself crazy with it.

Avis made some tea and we had as much pie as we could get down before we finally retired to the bedrooms to relax. Libby, Avis and I sat on Libby’s bed, helping her pack for her trip to England. Les called and said he’s picking her up at the airport in London.

Tomorrow Avis has to go to the gynecologist; she missed taking the Pill that day she was traveling from Bremen, and since then she’s missed her periods. It might be the changes she’s going through, but Libby and Avis informed me that sperm lives in the human body for 48 hours.

Avis will probably end up spending more time in the States than she’d like; she expects to get a lot of hassles from her parents about going back to Europe, starting very soon. But she is happy in Bremen. It’s all she talks about, and I’m convinced her life is there, whatever her mother says.

When Angelina returned from her own family’s celebration, she was full of snow, and we looked outside and saw that the world was white: it was the first White Christmas in quite a few years.

Libby, Avis and I went outside and had a snowball fight and wrote with our fingers on cars and walked around Park Slope as the flakes fell. The city seems so tranquil when snow is falling.

Avis and I drove home carefully at 7 PM. When I got back here, Marc was involved in his own packing for his trip; his bus to Florida leaves Port Authority tomorrow at 6 AM, so he’s got to get up incredibly early.

Sunday, December 28, 1975

3 PM on a mild, sunny afternoon. Perhaps I’ll go out for a walk later and enjoy this warm winter day.

Last evening Avis was waiting for me in front of her parents’ house in Sheepshead Bay. She said she had a wonderful birthday up until then; her parents gave her money to buy shoes and boots at Kings Plaza.

The more I am with Avis, the more I am convinced that she does belong in Germany, despite the things her mother said. I believe she will eventually find a direction there, something apart from Helmut.

Her gynecological exam showed everything to be in working order. Like her mother, Avis has high blood pressure, and she’s never been the most robust individual.

We got to Libby’s at about 8 PM. When we entered the living room, Wyatt and Angelina were looking at Libby’s passport and pound notes. There are photos and sketches of Les Applegate all over the room. Les writes Libby every day, and she even got a Christmas card from his parents.

Wyatt and I drove over to Fifth Avenue to score some dope. Apparently, Park Slope’s dealers hang out on the corner of Ninth Street all night. While I waited in the car, Wyatt got two nickel bags of grass, the entire transaction taking less than a couple of minutes.

Back home, Fred had arrived, and while Libby was dressing and Wyatt, Angelina and Avis were cleaning the grass, I answered a phone call from Teresa.

Teresa said she and Costas were going out to dinner, and we agreed to meet them at her friend Carolyn’s apartment in the city at 10 PM.

From the way that Libby was acting last night, I’m sure that by tonight she’ll be like a chicken without its head; Avis traveled with her cross-country for two months and said they would spend half an hour looking for a shirt that Libby was actually wearing at the time.

We got stoned, which was nice, and we listened to music, and Libby went downstairs to bring up the cake she’d baked in honor of Avis’s birthday. Avis wondered what was taking her so long and wanted to go down to see; I had to physically restrain Avis, and we ended up wrestling and giggling uncontrollably.

Finally, Libby brought up the cake with 22 candles (and one for good luck) and Avis blew them out and we sang “Happy Birthday.” With the cake, we had tea, although there were more pastries: Libby had been baking all day, including cookies for Les and his parents. I told Libby that if I hung around her all the time, I’d be as fat as a house.

Wyatt and I played a game of checkers, with him beating me rather quickly, until it was time for us to go to Manhattan. It took a while, but I finally found a parking space near Carolyn’s place, on Third and 34th Street.

It was so strange to see Teresa again, but it was also as if she had never gone away; she hugged Avis, Libby and me tightly, and Fred for good measure, even though she’d never met him before. Teresa looks well although she’s put on some weight.

She loves her job for the March of Dimes, speaking at schools to recruit Walkathon volunteers. I think that it’s really her job that keeps Teresa in California. Things are not going well with Ted, who has begun to see his ex-wife again.

Teresa said that since she’s been back in New York, she’s seen two other ex-boyfriends besides Costas, who smiled when she said that. She had dinner with Roger and his lover in their apartment in the Village, and she saw her ex-fiancé Alan, who’s marrying a distant cousin of Mikey’s.

Costas looked very good, as usual; he’s still working at the advertising agency. He asked if I were still seeing Ronna, and of course he is still seeing Joy after two years.

Costas told Libby that Melvin has been trying to reach her and he told me that he’d spoken to Rose recently. So other people from school do still keep in touch.

After some conversation with everyone, including Carolyn and her two friends, a gay couple a few years older than the rest of us, we wanted to go out. On his way home, Costas drove us uptown, and we managed to make the 11 PM showing of Truffaut’s new film, The Story of Adele H., at Cinema I.

As always with Truffaut, it was a beautiful movie, about the most obsessive love I’ve ever seen. It was great to be sitting in the balcony with three old friends like Libby, Avis and Teresa.

After the movie, we took a cab downtown to 34th Street. I dropped Fred and Libby off in the Village, as I felt too exhausted to stay out any later with them, and I drove a similarly tired Avis home, too.

Today Scott called and he got very pissed because I didn’t invite him along to celebrate Avis’s birthday last night. I didn’t say a word and just let him go on and on about what bad friends we all were.

He started to get really nasty, berating me for being inconsiderate: “It’s not like I’m in New York 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you people are going to be like this, I’m not going to bust my balls trying to see you anymore . . .”

I just waited till he trailed off and hung up. Then I called Ronna, who had gone to her cousin’s wedding last night. Both her mother and her father were there separately because her father’s sister is married to her mother’s cousin.

Ronna mentioned seeing Mason at Kings Plaza on Friday; apparently he’s working at Sam Goody’s now. Ronna said that Mason looked as if someone took all the starch out of him.

Craig’s “personal problem” that prevented him from helping Henry out with that Boy Scout function turned out to be a stolen car. But like me earlier this spring, Craig managed to get his car back.

Ronna said Craig found Elspeth working at the police station in Coney Island when he went there. On Saturday, Teresa told me Elspeth is still seeing that married cop.

Sid called Ronna this week after he learned from Prof. Hausdorf at Richmond College that Ronna’s also applying to graduate schools in American Studies, as he is. Sid told Ronna to say hello to me, and I gave Ronna Costas’s regards.

It’s so funny how everyone’s lives are so interrelated, but it’s also sad that Sid and Costas, once the best of friends, no longer speak to each other much anymore.

Because Ronna had off from work for the holidays, she helped Felicia and Spencer move to their new place in Brooklyn Heights. Just before I hung up with Ronna, I told her maybe we can get together later this week. She said to call her.

Apparently there’s a fire around the corner, so I’m going out to investigate and see what’s what.

Monday, December 29, 1975

11 PM. That fire yesterday made me sad. People’s possessions in that house were destroyed, and they had to throw mattresses out of the windows.

While I was going, Debbie phoned to say she couldn’t make our date, so I was free for the rest of Sunday. Mom said that with Marc gone, I could use his car if I had it washed first, so I did.

Coming out of the car wash on Ralph Avenue, I spotted Ronna on her bicycle. I honked, but she just looked annoyed. Apparently she didn’t recognize me because I was not in my own car. When she finally realized who I was, I parked and we talked on the sidewalk.

Ronna looked absolutely gorgeous. Her cheeks were rosy red, and she got a haircut recently, and she was wearing a bright orange sweater under that camel coat of hers I’ve always liked. We stood chatting for quite a while.

She was heading for her grandmother’s to pick up a few things; she had stayed there last week after a fight with her mother, presumably about Ben. As we parted, I kissed Ronna and hugged her several times.

This evening at 8:45 PM, I drove to Park Slope to pick up Libby. Surprisingly, she was ready to leave. I know how flighty Libby can be, so I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t have to return to pick up something she’d forgotten to take.

Wyatt had a bad cold, and so he and Angelina stayed home; Fred decided not to go, either. So it was just Avis and Mrs. Judson and Libby and I who went to the airport. It was a quick ride, and we got there in plenty of time.

When Libby bought Les a carton of Winstons duty-free (he wrote and asked her to bring him a pack), she left her passport and money on the counter. Luckily, Avis noticed it right away.

We sat down and had a bite to eat in the British Airways coffee shop, and Avis and I bought Libby a magazine and watched as she took her Dramamine. I seem to spend so much time at airports, though of course I am never the one who is going or coming back.

At 9 PM, the call came to board, and Libby hugged Avis, myself, and her mother in turn and went through the line to get on the plane.

As we turned to leave, Mrs. Judson realized she was holding the shopping bag full of the cookies Libby worked so hard to bake. We frantically ran to the guard, and Libby got the cookies safely.

Despite all her problems, Mrs. Judson is one hell of a lady. On the drive back to Brooklyn, she told us that since the day Libby was born, Libby has never given her “a second’s trouble.”

Wednesday, December 31, 1975

5 PM on a rainy New Year’s Eve. Earlier today, I got out my 1976 diary, which I will start tomorrow. I had all my diaries out, books from 1969 to the present, and I began reading my entries for New Year’s Eve.

The common denominator I find in all the entries is an optimism which overrides the greatest anxieties and insecurities. Just the fact that this is the seventh New Year’s Eve that I’m writing an entry is a testament to my tenacity and survival instinct.

Each year has been a richer experience than the previous year, and 1975 has been the best year of all. It was the first year in ten years that I’ve managed to live without psychotherapy.

It’s been the first year that I’ve sold a story, the first year I’ve taught a college class, the first year of my life in which I haven’t caught a bad cold. I’ve written a lot this year, and perhaps some of that writing is very good.

I’ve grown as a person although perhaps I’ve sacrificed a social life to my work. But in these last weeks of the year, at holiday time, I’ve been close with friends.

Last night I phoned Alice, who was happy to have both her mother and brother home again; it must be good for them to have their whole family reunited in one city and one continent.

Vito called, and it was so comforting to hear his voice again. We gossiped a bit, like old times. Helen is back in New York, and Vito said she’s as friendly as ever, that her ashram experience hasn’t changed that part of her. Grace made a party for Helen, and Vito thinks Helen saw Mason as well; they had a kind of special friendship, I think.

Mara sent Vito a funny postcard from Florida, and Vito said that his sister Stella is dating Nancy’s brother George.

Vito hopes to get a job and take at least one course in graduate school next term, and we promised each other to get together before the spring semester starts.

On her break from work today, Avis called, and I suggested we see the new Glenda Jackson film at the mall tonight. She said that sounded okay and that I should contact Mason and Mikey to see if they wanted to come along.

A little later, Teresa called, asking me to come over to her house tomorrow with Nancy and Avis; she thought it might be fun to get together again. Teresa’s calendar is so booked that if we can pull this off, she can kill three birds with one stone.

Tonight Teresa’s having a quick dinner with Sean. Teresa said Stefanie’s been calling, but she can’t make the time to see her. Teresa told me she’s enjoying our rainy, cold New York weather; California’s sunshine is so boring.

This afternoon I went to Kings Plaza, to the bank, and afterwards I found Mason on his lunch break. He looked kind of pieced-together, wearing his Sam Goody’s vest and bowtie. He said everyone had come into the store this week, including Nancy and Ronna.

I asked Mason about joining us at the movie tonight, and he thought about it for a minute and decided to stay home in Rockaway. When I arrived home, I called Mikey, but like Mason, Mikey said he’d prefer a quiet evening at the beach.

I also spoke to Josh, who said he’d probably end up at a cousin’s party. I wished him a happy new year anyway, as I did with everyone else.

When I phoned Ronna at her office, she was all alone, just waiting for the time when she could leave. She’s going to Susan’s house to pick her up, and then they’ll have dinner and babysit for Billy at Ronna’s house in Canarsie, making gingerbread cookies to pass the time.

When I was at Marty’s in Oceanside yesterday, I spoke to Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb in Fort Lauderdale, and last night we phoned Miami to talk to Grandma Sylvia, Grandpa Nat and Marc.

Mom and Dad are going to a party in the neighborhood tonight, and Jonny will be home. People are the most important “other” in life, and I’m glad that all the people I love are near in one way or the other.

What do you say? Let’s have a healthy, happy, interesting 1976.